Sunday, December 31, 2017

What the Holy Family and your family have in common (Sunday homily)

If you have been keeping track, 
we heard about eight people in these readings: 
Abraham and Sarah and Isaac; Simeon and Anna; 
Mary and Joseph, and the Lord Jesus.

Each one, in a different way, had faced hard blows. 
Think of Sarah’s heartbreak in not being able to have a child. 
Anna who lost her husband after only seven years of marriage. 
Mary and Joseph having their lives turned upside down by God’s Plan.

So, a simple lesson. You are not alone. If you think your life is a mess; 
or if you are discouraged, or even ashamed, 
by the problems your family has, you are in good company.

And I will make a further point. 
When God asked these folks to take a step of faith,
Each of them could have said, “Not me!” for good reasons.
Too old! Abraham and Sarah could have said.
I’ve suffered enough, Anna could have said.
I have no experience, Mary could have said.

On this feast of the Holy Family, it is really important to remember that no family, 
including the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, 
fits the “ideal” – that is, the ideal that is portrayed in happy stories, 
or which we concoct in our own imaginations.

No family is like that, because it does not exist!

So realize that holiness is not something we will eventually get to, 
after the holidays, after the bills are paid, 
once things settle down at work, once the children are a little older, 
when we have a little more financial security…
You get the idea? Later, later…

No. The Holy Family is holy not in idyllic serenity 
but in hectic, even frantic circumstances. 
They are poor. They are looking for housing. Joseph is looking for work. 
They are scorned and insulted. Their taxes are too high. 
The Romans push them around. They are in danger of death – 
they have to flee to another country. 
They are separated from friends and family. 

In the midst of all this, somehow they find time to worship; 
Joseph, after a long day’s work, finds time to pray and listen to God.
Mary ponders all these things in her heart.
They find holiness not apart from, 
but precisely in these circumstances.

That’s how it was for the Holy Family, 
and that’s how it is for you and me.

Monday, December 25, 2017

What difference does Christ make? (Christmas homily)

This year, at last, we have something of a white Christmas. 
That doesn’t happen here very often, 
and that always seems to make a difference.

Christmas seems to be a “come inside” sort of time; it is cold outside, 
and dark or cloudy most of the time. 
We want to be where it’s warm and bright.

It is also a “come together” time. Looking out at your faces, 
I see many of our college students and other family members 
who now live elsewhere, now home. 
At the same time, there are many 
who are on the road to family elsewhere. 

So now that we’re all inside, and all together, let me ask a question:
What difference does Christmas really make? 
That is to say, what difference does Christ make?

If we are honest, there are multiple reasons we are here.

Yes, it’s one of the really important holy days, so there’s that.
The church and the music are beautiful, 
and it brings such good memories.

Or we might say, well, it just wouldn’t feel right not to go to Mass, 
at least on this day of all days.
And, some would probably admit they are here, to some degree,
to make someone else happy.

Will you entertain the possibility that there is grace at work here? 
That the hand of providence played a role?

I predict, right now, that there will be folks who came to Mass today, 
who will leave having awakened to a reason you needed to be here; 
But you only saw it after you were here.

We can fool ourselves into thinking Christmas is about lots of things.
Yet the truth is that underneath it all, 
Christmas is finally about just one thing: and that is a child. 
The child who is Jesus Christ.

So back to my question: what difference does he make?

Many people seem to have decided that the answer is, not much. 
Or, at least, not that much that affects me.
So we have a growing number of people today 
who are called “nones”: meaning they have no religious affiliation.
And many of these are folks who grew up as Christians; and others, 
who never had any particular religious practice growing up.

This includes several members of my own family.

On this day when we hear the word “light” 
repeated in the prayers and the readings –
our churches and our homes are likewise adorned with light – 
I’d like to point out some of the light we would not have, 
if there were no Christmas. Three ways Christ makes a difference.

First, Christ makes the difference of bringing forgiveness.
It seems to me that our society is less forgiving.
And let me point out that there is a difference 
between a society that forgives, 
and a society that decides that what used to be wrong, no longer is. 

So, to use an example: we have many people 
who have come to our country in violation of the laws. 
Most people agree this is a problem; 
Where we disagree is over the right solution.

In the midst of this we have two notable phenomena:
First, that there is a hardness of some people’s hearts
when it comes to forgiving the transgression of the law; 
and second, a growing insistence by others that
there was nothing actually wrong with breaking the law 
in the first place.

But you see, these go hand-in-hand: if you cannot hope for forgiveness, 
you aren’t going to admit you are wrong. 
Does that sound familiar, married couples?

Many people find it hard to forgive; and it often is very hard.
Let me just point out that there isn’t anyone here, 
over the age of, say, two, who hasn’t been forgiven, 
both generously and continuously through your life.
Much of it you aren’t even aware of, or you’re forgotten.
Don’t believe me? Ask your parents!

The power to forgive comes from Christ. And remember, 
that is why he came. He was born, knowing that he would die. 
The wood of the manger in which he lay 
foreshadowed the wood of the Cross on which he would say, 
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And that is all of us.

Another difference Christ makes? 
He came to give us the power to change.

Now, a lot of us will say, but I don’t change! 
When I go to confession, 
I keep bringing the same sins over and over. 
I never seem to overcome my bad habits.

It is true that change comes hard and slow.
And yet it will come, if we are humble enough to ask God’s help.

Meanwhile there are miracles of change that happen all the time; 
they serve to show just how powerful the Holy Spirit is, 
when we truly yield to him.

I think of a man named Charles Colson. 
In the 60s and 70s, he was a rising political activist. 
He reached a position of great power in the Nixon White House – 
only to be brought low by his own pride; 
he was, by his own admission, “ruthless” in pursuing political power.

One of his boasts was instigating a riot that left 70 people injured; 
and he helped destroy the good names of many people.
When he went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, 
he was a much hated man. 
But the prayers and witness of Christians around him, 
along with humiliation of his fall from power, changed Chuck Colson.
He went on to spend almost 40 years – until his death – 
working for prison reform 
and to be a voice for those society often prefers to forget about. 
When he died in 2012, 
he had been honored around the world for his good work. 

What had changed him? Christ changed him. 

Finally, let me note one more difference Christ makes: 
His coming into the world lets us know that no matter what we face, 
and however alone you or I may feel,
We are never actually alone.

Christmas isn’t just about God communicating to the world; 
he has done that countless times through the ages.

But as the letter to the Hebrews says, 
“in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son” – 
who was born of the Virgin Mary. Human like us. 
Poor and forgotten as so many are. Powerless and ignored.

He felt the same sting of mocking words that every schoolchild knows. 
Jesus’ hands bore the same scars and callouses 
that our parents and grandparents earned, 
building their farms and this community.

Jesus knows what it is to be betrayed by a trusted friend, 
And to stand up for what is right, and be left alone.
Make no mistake, there have always been rich and powerful people, 
And to this day, 
they still tend to have plenty of strings to pull to get what they want.

But the difference Christ makes is that God has cast his lot, 
not with the comfortable, but with the cast out;
not the lordly, but rather the lowly.

God chose a poor and hidden birth, as well as a criminal’s death, 
so that there would be no one – not anyone at all – who could say:
I am too low, I am too poor, I am too awful for Christ to care for me!

There is not one of us who Christ does not want to call brother, 
so that we can be part of his family, 
to know the life of the Blessed Trinity.
This is what Christ invites you to. This is why he came.
There is not one of us here who Christ did not come to forgive, 
to change, and to be our companion for life and eternity!

This is why the hand of providence brought us here;
these are the gifts the Christ Child brings on this Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

No Sunday homily...

Because our deacon will give the homily at all Masses this weekend. We planned that precisely because of Christmas falling on Monday.

So watch this space for my Christmas homily instead!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent isn't about what you think it is (Sunday homily)

Maybe you have noticed during the last few weeks,
the readings at Mass have been about the end of time.
On the Feast of Christ the King, we heard about the final judgment;
and the past two weeks have been about Jesus’ Final Coming.
So today, we heard about a “year of favor” and a “day of vindication.”

In fact, this is the overriding theme of Advent.
At some point or another, you have to ask:
what’s this got to do with Christmas?

I’m going to say something that will surprise you, but:
Advent is not about preparing for Christmas!
At least, not primarily. Rather, it is about preparing for Eternity.

The focus is on the far horizon of time
when Christ will put the elect on his right and the damned on his left;
and he will usher in the New Creation,
when you and I will become the redeemed humanity we long to be.

So where does Christmas fit in? Christmas is the down-payment!

Stop and consider the way we celebrate Christmas as a society;
and you’ll see that it actually distorts our focus.
We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas
back in October; or September, or August?

Stores put up decorations and displays. The music starts.
We have handicraft sales and sleigh rides.

Right after Hallowe’en we start putting up trees and lights,
The parties start to pile up, we have christmas, a little more Christmas,
and then, HERE IT IS, December 25, CHRISTMAS! Exhaustion!
It’s over! Here come the bills, ouch!

See that? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax, the high point.
But what if that’s all wrong?
Christmas isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.
It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity;
on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.

So again, Advent is mainly about eternity;
because eternity is the real point of our lives as Christians.
If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is,
Because of the eternity Jesus offers us.

Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.
That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.
You and I join our lives to his, living for him, watching for him,
Till he comes again to bring us to that fullness of life.

It occurs to me that we do not talk enough about eternity.
This world crowds in, demanding urgent attention.
The phone rings; bills need to be paid.
The kids need a ride to basketball practice.

Even so, eternity is our focus.
Reminding ourselves of this helps us
make sense of everything God asks,
 and everything we say “no” to for the sake of Christ.
The disciplines and demands of our Faith
are just like what a coach asks of her team;
or what a drill sergeant does in training his squad.
“We’re getting ready,” he says, “for what’s coming next."

If you are preparing for your wedding,
it makes sense that you got your shoes polished, your hair cut,
you rented a fancy tuxedo, and put all that gear on.
But who would go to all that trouble, and then just sit in a room?

This is a good time to recall the ancient Christian practice
of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom,
which lives on in priests and religious, of course.

Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?
So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.
Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life,
and enter a convent or monastery.

Is it because we think marriage is something bad?
Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.

And that is precisely the point.
There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing.
But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good,
the natural question is, why?

And the answer is, they are looking to something better.
To eternity. That is why when you see religious sisters and brothers,
their faces are lit with an other-worldly light.
They have given up possessions and the world and marriage,
and they are full of joy.

To embrace the religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,
so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world,
but the New Creation that we hope for.
People see that you are dressed and ready for the Kingdom.

How do you know if you are called to the religious life?
Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer;
for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:
Then this calling may be for you.

All the same, it is not only priests and religious
who are called to be a witness to hope.
Every single Christian – every one of us –
is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.

And if that sounds demanding, it is.
But then, realize that life makes more sense
when we keep our focus on what we’re working toward and waiting for.

So to come back to my main theme:
Advent is not mainly about Christmas – but Eternity.
After all, Christmas, too, is really about Eternity.
Jesus did not come into the world to be changed into the world;
Rather, he came in order to change the world into himself.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis,
wrote a wonderful book called the Screwtape Letters,
which centers on a fanciful correspondence between two devils.
In one chapter, the more experienced devil explains to the novice
that while “humans live in time, [God] destines them for eternity.
He therefore…wants them to attend chiefly to two things:
to eternity itself, and to…the present,
the point at which time touches eternity.”

Even so: right now, at this present moment, “time touches eternity.”
Right now, just out of reach, in the jangle of thoughts and emotions,
just past the uncertainty, in between our actions and reactions,
in the frightening silence, there is eternity.

Eternity is right here. Everything about Holy Mass
is meant to make this real to us, and to whet our appetite for it.
The Eucharist is – truly is –
Eternity wrapped up in the thinnest, barest gossamer of time.

If you knew you would enter Eternity a day from now,
or an hour from now, what would be different?
What would you do differently?

Of course, Eternity is here, right here, right now.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Married priests: a disaster

Lately there's been talk about the pope allowing married men to be ordained as priests. This topic comes up from time to time, but now it seems like the idea may actually be under consideration.

Now, before we go any further, Take careful note of what we're talking about: married men being ordained as priests. This is not the same as, "priests getting married." Get that? These things are not the same. What's the difference? The only question under consideration is whether, in addition to single men being ordained priests, we will now allow men who are already married to do so, as well. LISTEN: no one is considering allowing men who are already ordained, to be married. Get that? This sequence is awfully important, as will shortly become clear...

The current situation is: if you are a Catholic man, and you think you want to be a priest, you know: if you choose that path, you do not get married. That's how it is, right now.

So what's being talked about is, well, how about we open the door to men being married, first -- and then they can train to be priests. Won't that mean more priests?


In fact, it will collapse vocations. It will destroy them.

Wow, that's harsh. How can I say that?

Right now there are about 60 or so men training for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Most of them are young, in their 20s or 30s; a few older. They entered the seminary knowing that if they go forward, they are foregoing marriage. They can be a priest, or they can be married. They can't do both.

And -- remember what I said in the second paragraph -- they know that once they are ordained a priest, there will never be an option for a priest to be married. Why? Because there never has been, and no one in the Church is proposing changing that.

So imagine the pope announces: we're changing it; now you can be married first, then ordained. Or even, we're looking at it.

How many of those 60 men starts thinking: you know what? This means I can get married, first -- and then be ordained later! Why not do that? The pope just said, married priests are great; so why shouldn't I be a married priest?

Fast-forward, the decision is made: now married men will be accepted as candidates for orders. And here I am, in Russia, Ohio, promoting the priesthood. And here's the conversation I have with a high school boy:

Fox: "You should think about being a priest. You're dedicated to prayer, you love the Mass, you help people -- you'd be a great priest."

H.S. boy: "Thanks Father, but I don't know, I think about being married. Didn't the pope say I could do both?"

Fox: "Well, yes he did."

H.S. boy: "And, didn't he say I have to marry first? Right?"

Fox: "That's right."

H.S. boy: "Well, OK then, I think I'll wait."

And why shouldn't he? Why should any young man not wait and see if marriage works out, first? He can always go to the seminary later, right? But if he goes first, then no marriage.

Please tell me why this change wouldn't empty out our seminaries, as lots of young men decide they will see how marriage works out -- and either, if it doesn't, then they can enter; or else, if they do get married, they can pursue the priesthood after things settle down in their marriage. Say, when they are 50 or so.

I know what you're thinking. Oh, but instead of all those 20 year olds, you'll get eager 50 year olds. First, why assume it will be a 1:1 trade -- that is, for every 20 year old we lose, we'll gain an older guy? You get married, you raise kids, you have a job, career, business; and you're going to drop all that to enter the seminary? C'mon. It is precisely when you are single that you can maybe do this; and speaking as someone who was single in my 20s and in my 30s, 40s and 50s, it just gets harder to do things like this as you get older. You get tied down, even without a wife and children. Do you really think it's easy for a man who is married and has children -- maybe grandchildren -- to say, OK, now I'm entering the seminary?

It won't be a 1:1 ratio, but even if it were, it needs to be about a 1:5 ratio. That is, for every 20-something young man we lose, we need to pick up at least 5 older men. Why? Because a man who is ordained at 26 will be a priest for a whole lot longer than a man ordained at 46 or 56. And a man who is celibate is going to be full time; a married man, a father and grandfather, is far less likely to be.

Oh, and by the way: once you announce men can both marry, and become a priest, what inference will there be about men who skip marriage to enter the seminary? You don't think people will ask: "gee, I wonder why Father didn't marry -- he could have, after all? Hmm..." I'm sure those men who pursue the traditional path will just love that, don't you think? One more disincentive to enter the seminary early.

And we can dig into the other problems later: married priests mean priests with family problems, divorced priests, and the priest's family problems become parish problems.

There are more problems I can foresee, but the main one is this. If you decree that married men can be priests, then lots and lots of men thinking about priesthood will switch to thinking about marriage first. And that empties seminaries that are still only half-full.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Three ways to 'prepare the way' (Sunday homily)

Last week the key idea was that yes, humanity needs a Savior.
This Sunday, I want to suggest that the key idea in the readings is:  
“Prepare the way.”

In the first reading, a voice cries out: “prepare the way of the LORD!” 
In the Gospel, we learn whose voice: John the Baptist’s.

How do we prepare the way?

Well, Saint Peter tells us in the second reading:
“the day of the Lord will come like a thief” – we cannot know when; 
so “be eager to be found… at peace” with Christ.

Let me offer three concrete things you can do, starting now, 
to draw closer to Christ and prepare the way for him in your life.

The first thing I want to highlight 
is spending time in the Lord’s presence. 

Now, someone can say, well, look, does it matter where I pray?
Why is it so important to come and be in Jesus’ very presence?

The answer, of course, is that on God’s level, it does not matter. 
God sees you and knows you wherever you are.
But on the human level, of course it makes a difference.

It’s like the difference between calling someone you love, 
versus going to see that person. 
Sometimes a phone call is all we can do, and that’s a lot; 
but it’s obviously not the same as visiting in person.
Making a habit of prayer, especially taking time 
to come and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, isn’t just going to happen.
It will happen only if you make a firm resolution and concrete plan.

Now, I want to make a distinction between praying in church – 
in the presence of the Eucharist – 
and praying when Jesus is on the altar, in Exposition.
Both are good, both will help us, 
but there is something especially powerful 
about praying with Jesus, as it were, face-to-face.

As you probably know, we have exposition every Thursday, 
from the 8:15 Mass in the morning till Benediction 
at 8:30 in the evening. Come anytime you want, for as long as you want. 
And if you feel so led, you could sign up for one of the hours. 
Some are kind of thin with adorers.

If this doesn’t work for you, we also have, 
on the First Friday of each month, an all-night vigil, 
from the 7 pm Traditional Latin Mass, 
until about 8 on Saturday morning. 
The group that organized this, 
which is devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus 
and to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, 
will make you very welcome. 

The second thing I want to emphasize is confession.
If praying before the Eucharist is “face time,”
Confession is “heart time.”
Look: I’m obviously not married, 
but two things are true of every marriage.
First, that there are always hurts and times of distance.
Second, there is always a need 
for open-hearted confession and forgiveness.

It is true that forgiveness doesn’t always come easily 
in family situations. 
But the good news is, even if your husband or wife 
doesn’t forgive easily and generously, God does!

Between now and Christmas, there will be plenty of opportunities 
for you to receive this sacrament. 

I recently started hearing confessions on Wednesdays at 5:45 pm, 
till 6:10 – that is, till just before the evening Mass. 
In addition, I hear confessions for 2-1/2 hours on Thursdays 
and over 2 hours on Saturdays. 
There’s also a little time for confessions also on Sunday morning, 
before the 9 and 11 am Masses.

On top of this, if you look in the bulletin this week and next, 
you’ll see times listed for confessions and penance services 
at nearby churches.

And, in the week right before Christmas, 
I’ll have extra times here at St. Remy. Watch the bulletin for these. 

The third thing suggestion I have is to reach out.
So we have “face time”: adoring Jesus in the Eucharist;
And “heart time”: confessing our sins in the sacrament of penance;
So this is “go time”: go make some a difference in someone’s life. 

Today we have a special collection for the retirement fund 
for religious sisters, brothers and priests.
This is an easy sell; people are always generous, 
because we feel an almost instinctive gratitude 
to those who entered religious life, taking a vow of poverty, 
and who gave their lives to others.

We often say, oh, how costly that was, 
you gave your whole life as a priest or religious. 
When you meet a priest or a sister, do they tell you,
“Gee, what a rotten deal that was! Boy, did I get ripped off!”

No! What you see and hear is that we love what we were called to.
I love being a priest. I love being your priest.
And if you’re listening now, and wondering 
if maybe you should be a sister, or a brother, or a priest, 
I want to tell you, if it is for you, nothing will make you happier! 
Don’t be afraid of it. At least give it a try.

And in the meantime – and for all of us in every walk of life – 
there are a 100 ways, every day, 
we can go make a difference for someone else.

A lot of people at this time of year are sad, 
especially if they lost someone they love and the memory is sharp. 
No better time to check in with friends and neighbors, 
especially if they live alone and maybe are getting a little older. 
And if you are feeling sad, helping others is the best thing for it.
We have a St. Vincent de Paul Society that helps people in need. 
If you want to be involved, they would love to hear from you. 
And they can connect you to opportunities 
in Piqua, Sidney, Troy and Dayton. 

Right here in Russia we have Rustic Hope, 
helping women facing an unexpected pregnancy. 
They would love your help.
So would the food pantry in Versailles. 

Jesus is coming: at the end of time; and in this Mass. 
If you want to be prepared, and draw close to him,
Fix your eyes on him. Open your heart to him. 
Give him your hands for his work.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

How do I know God loves me? Mary's Immaculate Conception is how (homily)

There is frequently confusion about what we are celebrating today. 
I am determined to correct this mistake every chance I get.

Pop quiz: whose conception – whose beginning of life – 
are we commemorating today? 
Is it (a) Father Martin Fox? No.
Is it (b) Jesus Christ? No, because that would mean
he was conceived on Dec. 8 and born 17 days later. If Mary had a 17-day pregnancy,
I think that would have been mentioned elsewhere.
So that leaves (c) "Someone else." And that someone else is Mary.
Mary's birthday is September 8; back up nine months: December 8.
It’s Mary who is conceived immaculately, or, without sin.

We mark Jesus’ conception on March 25, 
nine months before Christmas.
Today we recall when Mary was conceived 
in the womb of her mother, Ann. 
Mary’s birthday comes nine months later, September 8.

So, again, the Immaculate Conception is about how Mary began her life.*

The mistake is understandable, 
in part because the Gospel reading 
talks mostly about Jesus being conceived. 
Even so, this Gospel reading is still the right one, 
because it is the place where the Bible 
most clearly points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. 

First, we have a single, powerful word, in the original Greek: kecharitomene
This is the word we translate, “full of grace.”

Let’s notice a couple of things. First, it’s a greeting. 
This isn’t a statement about Mary; 
it’s the name Heaven gives to Mary; it’s who God says she is. 
Moreover, to say Mary is “full of grace” is actually not strong enough.

Here’s a more literal sense of what the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary:
Hail, You who have been, and now are, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced.
Get that? Mary was, and remains, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced by God.

There it is: Mary has been free from sin 
from the very first instant of her life. 
Otherwise, it would not be true 
that she was “perfectly and completely” graced. 

Then there is another detail in this passage that confirms this. 
Later, Gabriel says, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” 

This is an unusual phrase, used only a few times in Scripture, 
as when the Glory of God overshadowed the tent of meeting, 
which was where God’s People gathered to worship the Lord. 
That tabernacle God desired to be prepared perfectly.

So what Gabriel’s words mean is that Mary is that tabernacle, 
first made perfect by the Divine Craftsman, 
in preparation for being “overshadowed by the Most High.” Christ to enter.
Mary is the temple of the Lord,
Prepared with the greatest care for Jesus, 
Who enters Creation through Mary,
fulfilling the promise from Genesis, that He, 
the Seed of the Woman, would crush the enemy.

Here’s a beautiful quote by Blessed John Duns Scotus. He asked:

"Would the God of justice and mercy grant the first Eve, 
who He foreknew would betray Him, a greater glory in her creation 
than He would give the second Eve, 
who He foreknew would be His handmaid forever?"

And, of course, the answer is no!

The remaining question is, what does all this mean to me?

All this gives each of us cause for the greatest confidence.
All this ought to fill you and me with the greatest joy.

Think about it: God went to a whole lot of trouble, 
a terrific amount of planning. Why?
Even at the moment when Adam and Eve fell, 
Why did God plan for there to be a second Eve? 
Why so much fuss and bother? 

You are the reason. And so am I.
You and I were chosen; we were destined.
Never, never, never, never doubt that you matter to God!
Never, never fear that God will not move heaven and earth 
to bring about your salvation.

Today’s feast is the proof!

* Edits made when delivered.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Yes, we need a Savior (1st Sunday of Advent homily)

Now we begin the season the Church calls “Advent.” 
Not the Christmas Season. That begins in 4 weeks, on Christmas Day.

If you want to get a handle on the readings 
we hear at Mass during Advent, think of this way. 
We begin, with today’s readings, with a problem – 
for which Christmas presents the solution. 
And what is that problem?

Humanity needs a savior.

This is not always a welcome point to make. 
When each of us was a child, at some point or another 
we said to our mom or dad, “I can do it myself!” 
And we keep saying it our whole lives long.

The adult version of this is when we think we should get our act together first, 
before we go to confession.
But that’s backwards. Without God’s help, 
we will never get our act together. Never. 

That’s because: we need a savior.

Now, there are two rebuttals to this truth in our society.

The first is simply to deny it. There is no salvation. 
People are how they are, and they don’t really change.
All of us can be tempted to think this way, 
because what is true is that people don’t change easily.

We have all wanted someone to change, 
only to see that hope dashed over and over. 
So it is very tempting to harden our hearts and write people off.

The other response is more seductive:
There are plenty of voices around us that say, 
“Yes, you do need a savior – and that’s why I’m here!”

Sometimes it’s government. Politicians are always promising salvation.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to have good government; 
but I’m here to tell you: government isn’t going to save us. 

Neither is medicine going to save us.
We have made astounding progress, it is true, and we keep going. 
There is good reason to believe that in the next few decades, 
we will witness even more astonishing things.

But we will also witness ways this goes terribly wrong.

There is a huge “fertility” industry, 
that creates human life in the laboratory. 
This is what is called “in vitro fertilization.”
It is understandable that people facing the heartbreak 
of not being able to conceive a child would reach for this.

But it is a gravely sinful manipulation of human life.
What gets overlooked is that this method involves
Creating multiple, tiny new lives, most of which are discarded.
And then these tiny human lives are destroyed 
in the process of being turned into raw material for research.
Yet another iteration of this is so-called “surrogacy.”
There are same-sex couples who are saying, they want to have children. 
Again, embedded in this is a good and wholesome desire.

This is a truth we hate to face: 
that so often, we do evil things for the best of reasons!

So when you have two men, or two women say, “here’s our baby!”
But what gets left out? Somewhere there is a mother, or a father, that that child will never have. 
Women, in particular, are especially exploited by this business.

Technology isn’t going to save us.

Fifty Sixty* or so years ago, our society launched 
on a great experiment, called the “Sexual Revolution.” 
The idea was that if only, if only we could all be “liberated” 
from outdated morality;

If only we could have no qualms about divorce 
and plentiful contraception, and “safe and legal” abortion;

If only there were more “openness”: 
knock down all the restraints on what can be shown in movies, 
TV, or included in books and music;

If only people could just pursue the path that suited them, then:
We would be so much happier, as individuals and as a society.
Marriages would be better; families would be better.

This really was the sales pitch. And now, 50 60* years on, we can see: 
This promise has failed. 

Whether you look at these accusations of 
powerful people preying on others; 
or look at the growing confusion about sexual identity: 
am I a man? Am I a woman? Who am I meant for?

There are so many children growing up with fractured lives.
No one is immune, but it is a crisis in our cities, 
because it is bound up with persistent poverty and loss of hope, 
and that leads to drugs, crime, rage, violence and an early grave.

There are so many people with so much emptiness in their lives, 
and they are filling it with opioid drugs, or with boozy weekends;
or with porn, or with endless entertainment.

None of these things are going to save us!
One of the reasons I am pounding this point, 
is because if you turn on the Internet or the TV, 
or you listen to what comes out of the mouths of lots of people, 
whether in Hollywood or Washington D.C., 
or next to you at the grocery store…

It is all around you and me; we breathe in this mindset constantly.
If you are not alert to it, you will soak it in.

There are a lot of people who aren’t ready to accept 
the failure of all these promises.

It is a brutal thing to accept that your god has failed: 
The gods of government, or science, or sex, 
or individualism or politics or money.
Because when you are forced to admit 
that none of these things are going to bring us salvation, 
then what do you do? 

Then, either you despair -- and many are despairing –
or else bend the knee to the one and only Savior there is:
And that is Jesus Christ! 
Yes, we need a savior. And his name is Jesus.

Advent starts by reminding us: we need a savior. 
You do. I do. Everyone of us needs a savior.

And then it leads us to him. 

He came on Christmas; he will come at the end of time.
He will come in a few minutes, for us, in this Mass.*
His name is Jesus.

* These edits made today.