Sunday, July 29, 2018

You either point to Christ, or away from him (Sunday homily)

A few years ago, I made a trip in Germany; 
and I remember driving on the highways there.
I don’t speak German, but I did know the names of the places 
I was going; and I could tell the speed limit. 
The signs in Germany did their job very well – 
they got me where I was going.

I’m talking about signs because the readings today talk about signs.
Elisha performs a sign, which points to what Jesus himself did later.
And in the second reading, 
Saint Paul tells the Ephesians, in effect, they are a sign, 
by how they live their lives.

All that was clear enough, 
but here’s something you may not have realized.
For the next five Sundays we will hear Jesus himself teach 
about the Eucharist, from Chapter six of the Gospel of John. 

That decision by the Church, to give so many Sundays to this, 
is also a sign: of how very important the Holy Eucharist is.

Vatican II called the Eucharist 
the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).
Well, when I say that, who disagrees? No one, right?

Now, let me back up to my trip to Germany. 
There were a couple of times when I was looking for a particular city, 
but I didn’t see the name on the highway signs.
That’s because the signs point you to the next place;
And then after you reach there, the next place.
But where I was going was a ways down the highway.
And because I am not familiar with the territory,
that threw me off a few times.
I-75 is exactly the same. As you go south from here, it’s all “Dayton”; 
then it’s all “Cincinnati,” 
and only south of there will you see “Lexington.”

So we have the signs in the Scripture, 
but they don’t take us the whole journey. 
How can that be? Because Jesus wants us to receive the Eucharist!
That requires the Holy Mass and that requires the Church.
Christ founded the Church in order to give us the Eucharist.

The Eucharist – Jesus’ Body and Blood, his own self –
Is not, of course, a sign; but the destination!
It is to Jesus himself, to union with him, 
that all the signs should point.

Now, here’s where you and I come in.
Up to this point, you could sit there and say, that’s all good stuff!

But here’s the punchline:
You and I are signs. Let me say that again: You and I are signs.
And we can either be good signs – 
that point the right way – or bad signs, that warn people off.
Last week I talked about bad shepherds, including bad bishops.
We might as easily have talked about prominent Catholics 
in Hollywood or business or politics who give bad example.

As we know, people will say: I’m not going to be Catholic, 
Look at the bishops, look at those phony politicians!

But the answer is to give them another sign to look at.
A convincing sign. A sign that is bright with the Holy Spirit.
That sign is your life. Your family life.
People aren’t stupid. We all know there are fakes everywhere.
But that just makes us want something real all the more!

Now, if you are still with me, then let me give you two ways 
to be credible, powerful signs that point people the right way.

The first is to be a penitent. A repentant person.
One thing we don’t need to convince anyone of, 
is that there is corruption in the world, even in the Church.

But what we can do is show – not just tell – others that, for our part, 
we are not full of pride, but we are sinners trying to grow in holiness.
In short: go to confession. Make a habit of confession.

We all have excuses. They are all bogus.
If Catholic churches started filling up with people going to confession, 
do you think that would be a powerful sign?

And, I might just remind you that if we are aware of a mortal sin, 
we must go to confession before receiving Holy Communion.
The second way you and I can be a powerful sign is by our reverence, 
at Holy Mass and specifically, in receiving Holy Communion.

Now, I want to be very clear: many here are doing that.
Many who visit St. Remy will comment on the reverence.
Many of you are an inspiration to me by your love for the Eucharist.

“But”: you knew that was coming.
Some of us I do want to challenge. 
Some folks come to communion like it’s a concession stand.
Or a drive-through: grab-and-go.
Stop and realize: 
You are approaching your God, who made you, 
and who became human precisely so he could die on the Cross for you.
And God is giving himself to you.

The bishops decided some years ago 
that we would approach standing, rather than kneel. 
Honestly, I wish they hadn’t done that.
But we do what they directed us to do.

At the same time, they also said something most people forget:
That everyone should show a sign of reverence.
Kneeling itself is perfect; and some of you do kneel.
Others genuflect. Awesome.
Not everyone can do that, so can you bow?
Can you make the sign of the cross?

And in that context, doesn’t receiving on the tongue make sense?
It is an act of great humility and submission – to Christ.
I know I will hear from folks who will say, for this or that reason, 
they don’t receive on the tongue. I understand.
But those exceptions don’t apply to most of us.

I’ll say it again: you are receiving the Lord, your God!

Jesus’ plan was for the Church – for each of us –
To be signs pointing to him.
Never more needed than today.
What others fail to do we cannot control.
But you and I can decide how powerful a sign we will be. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why don't we have better shepherds? (Sunday homily)

Have we heard about bad shepherds? Do we know what that is like?
Of course we do.

No matter what you think of President Donald Trump,
I think we can agree that he would never have been elected
 in a “normal” election year;
that is, if many, many Americans
hadn’t thought things were deeply off track.

And in these continuing strange times,
it seems to me you and I are seeing many more –
in politics, in government, in the media –
being exposed as very unreliable shepherds.

Meanwhile we are again seeing reports of clergy, specifically bishops,
who failed as shepherds. Failing two ways: in some cases,
preying on the sheep, being more wolves than shepherds;
and in other cases, knowing about wrongdoing
and not being bothered to act.

It seems to me that as bad as it is when you have leaders –
And I mean either the Church or government, or business, anywhere –
who are corrupt, who prey on those
they are supposed to protect or serve;
or who are dipping into the treasury for their own enrichment;
or who are in cahoots with those who do…

As bad as that is, that is not the major problem.
A far greater problem is complacency.

There is a bishop, a cardinal in fact, from the East Coast
who is now being widely accused of disgusting behavior,
preying on adults. That’s bad.
But more concerning is that apparently, this was an “open secret.”
And when people would summon the courage
to make a complaint, their reports were dismissed.

Complacency. Disinterest. Staying in your own lane.
Call it whatever you want;
but this allows worse corruption to fester.

And let me be a little tougher.

It isn’t just the higher-ups who don’t like the squeaky wheel,
the whistle-blower, the person who is airing out all the dirt;
NO ONE likes it! NO ONE wants to hear it.

I’m not talking about gossip; that, we like!
Because we can just listen and not have to do anything.

No, I’m saying that when someone comes forward, and says,
there is a real problem, and you have to do something about it:
No, we don’t like that one bit.

Let me give you an example from right here in Russia.
A couple of years ago, the school and the parish together
sponsored a speaker to come in
and talk about the dangers on the Internet.
Part of it was during the school day; the kids had to attend,
so of course the gym was full.

Part two was in the evening, for the parents.
Attendance was voluntary. Guess what happened?
I’m glad for those who showed up. And I realize people are busy.

But do you think those are the only reasons the gym was mostly empty?
Am I wrong to think that too many people
just don’t want to deal with it?

And if someone thinks I’m overstating the problem of explicit material online, let me tell you:
in a few short years,
this has rapidly become one of the top problems priests deal with.

Marriages are ending over it. Many more are deeply wounded.
And the thing is, if you are over 40, or even over 30,
There is a world of Internet activity and applications
that you simply cannot conceive of.

And if you don’t live in that world, you have no idea
what kind of warped messages are reaching out to our children.
Do you know the average age for exposure to these things?
Eleven years old, and dropping. All with a click of a finger.

Fifty years ago this year, Blessed Pope Paul VI
issued an encyclical called Humanae Vitae,
which mean, “Of Human Life.”

People remember it because he restates and explains
the Church’s constant teaching that marital acts
must always be open to the gift of life;

and therefore, all the various tactics and pills
and other things that people have done, down through the ages,
to make conception of a child impossible –
all these methods are gravely immoral; they are mortal sins.

That’s what people remember, and that there was a great rebellion.
Many experts, many prominent Catholics, professors and so forth,
and many priests and even some bishops, either openly rebelled;
or else, they treated the Pope like a leper.

They were so smart, and the Pope and the Church, so out of touch.
But here’s the thing. That letter, Humanae Vitae, was about much more
than what folks remember.
It is about what it means to be a human being, made in God’s image;
created and loved by God and destined for eternity.

Pope Paul did not issue that letter because he was looking for ways
to make life more complicated, particularly for married couples.

At the time, everyone was advising him to go the other way.
Or else, just don’t say anything. Just let it go.
Which, by the way, is what lots of priests did for years; and still do.
And, to be fair, that’s what lots of Catholics wanted them to do.

But Pope Paul could not do that. He had a duty,
not to tell people what they wanted to hear,
but what they needed to hear.
And the thing is, what he said –
again, about a lot more than contraception,
that’s only part of his letter…
What Pope Paul said was absolutely prophetic.
He predicted that if the Church’s ancient teaching were rejected:
human life would become cheaper – and we have widespread abortion;
Women would be degraded: look at the “Me Two” movement.

Moreover, there is a straight line
leading from rejecting Humanae Vitae,
to the profound confusion we now face over what marriage even is –
can it be two men or two women? –
and now the even deeper blindness of people
no longer knowing what it even means to be a man or a woman.

It is all a package deal.
God created humanity to be partners in his work.
But humanity doesn’t want that high calling; it is too demanding.
The problem is that when we lose God, in the end, we lose ourselves.
And that is what is happening right now, before our very eyes.

I began by talking about shepherds who fail, either in gross ways,
or else in being complacent.
But what I want to say is that as terrible as that is,
that can’t be an excuse for our own response.

With all that is dismaying, you and I can take courage
from the Providence of God that has given every family,
every one of us, resources that were impossible even 20 years ago.
People will say to me, “I wish you say more about this or that.”
I’d like to, and maybe I will; but I have limited time.

But you don’t have to wait for me.
Just for example, it’s available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year.
Our parish has a subscription.
The code you need to use is on our website.
And there’s much more that’s freely available online.

Pray for your shepherds, in the Church, in government,
our schools, business, colleges, the media.
You and I always need courage, but oh how badly we need it now!

Well, there it is: it isn’t just those other people who need courage. Every one of us does.
In the end, the shepherds are us.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Ho-humming Jesus (Sunday homily)

So, this is a pretty striking reaction to Jesus.
He is healing people, casting out demons, 
and teaching people about God, offering forgiveness and offering hope.

“And they took offense at him.”

We know this kid, they said; he grew up here. 
We know his family. Who does he think he is? 

Ho-hum, they said.

Their hardness of heart “prevented” Jesus from performing miracles; 
not because he was literally incapable of doing so – 
he is God, he can do what he likes – 
but rather, because there was no point.
The point of his healings and his teaching are the same: 
to open people up to the supernatural life God offers them.
But they were closed off; his miracles would do them no good.

It is shocking to think of people reacting this way.
But let me ask you: if you could have just 5 or ten minutes with Jesus, 
in which he would do for you what he offered those people,
Would you rearrange your schedule to meet with him?

I think a lot of us are saying, of course I would!
So then I ask you: what do you think happens in the confessional?

I know: a lot of people get discouraged because they go to confession, and they don’t get better.

But maybe the sacrament is keeping you from getting worse – 
did you ever consider that?

Saint Therese the Little Flower made a point on this somewhere:
That the reason we don’t quickly overcome our sins 
is because that would lead us to massive spiritual pride, 
which can send us to hell just as easily.
So it is God’s mercy that we spend our lives wrestling with sin, 
rather than one confession and done.

It really is this simple: what do you think happens in confession?
Do you believe Jesus is there, with all his power and his mercy?
Do you believe that? 

For that matter, do you believe the Holy Mass is a miracle?
Because that is what it is.

Actually, two miracles; two miracles happen in every Mass; 
and we all witness them.

The first miracle is that God brings us to Calvary, 
to the Sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross.
The Mass is the Cross; the Mass brings us to the Cross.
When you and I are at Mass, we are right there with Jesus.

The second miracle is the change of bread and wine 
into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – 
the true, real Presence of Jesus our Lord.

And, now that I think about it, there are three miracles.
The third one is that you and I, 
in receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace – 
meaning, we are not conscious of a mortal sin 
that we have not yet brought to confession…
I say again, when we receive the Eucharist in a state of grace,
we are united with Jesus. We have union with God.

When I say it aloud, it is astounding; it’s shattering.
I can’t help wondering, 
how in the world do we ho-hum these wonders? 
How does it happen? And yet, we do.

I don’t mean you; I mean me.
I stand at this altar, day by day. 
I give out God’s mercy in the confessional, and I’m glad to do it; 
but I confess to you, I am not overwhelmed enough. 
Not nearly enough.

It wasn’t just the hometown neighbors of Jesus who ho-hummed him; 
And by their “yeah, so what?” attitude, closed the door to miracles.
No; it wasn’t just them.

I don’t want to be those people. Do you? Do you?

“Jesus, I dare to ask: break down the barriers, break my heart open!
Please keep me, please keep these your flock, 
from being numbered among those 
about whom you are ‘amazed at their lack of faith.’
Please, Lord, in your mercy, may these words not be said of us. Amen.”

Sunday, July 01, 2018

A homily about pornography (without using that word; Sunday homily)

This past week I was in northern Kentucky, 
at a conference with other priests. 
Maybe you saw in the bulletin what it was about.
If you didn’t, let’s put it this way: 
it was about the dark side of the Internet. 
This is a very big problem. 
For many people, for a lot of people, it is an addiction.

This was not a vacation. We were looking at some heavy science 
and talking about some tough things, and how a priest can help.

And then, during the week, I look at the readings for this Mass.
They are about God giving life, and healing; 
raising someone from death to life.

It seemed to me to be providential.

So let me go back to the word I just used: addiction.
This is something a lot of people simply don’t understand; 
Even about themselves: “I don’t know why I do this.”

If this isn’t you, it is really hard to understand.
How can someone wreck his or her life over alcohol 
or gambling or over dark stuff on the Internet?

I don’t know that I’m going to explain this adequately, 
But what you must understand is that this isn’t about will power.
It isn’t about not praying enough, or some easy trick.
It goes a lot deeper.

Here’s what I learned this week about indecent materials – 
and, you do know I’m talking about something specific, 
but I’m being delicate?
So here’s part of what I learned.

This is about connecting with people.
If we don’t have the right kind of human connections, 
we will seek out the wrong kind. False kinds. Empty connections.

And to turn it around: if we are hooked on the wrong kind,
The answer, the thing we need, is the right kind of human connection.

When a lot of us were children, 
we had one phone the whole house shared.
And we had one TV, with 3, 4 or 5 channels.
When you watched TV, it was together.

Today, everyone has his or her own telephone;
And you can watch TV on it. We’re all disconnected.

So why be surprised that instead of human connection, 
we connect with apps, with games, 
and with other things we don’t want others to see.

So let’s talk about what happened in the Gospel.
A man comes to Jesus; his daughter is very ill.
What does Jesus say? I will come to her. 

But then something odd happens along the way.
A woman in the crowd reaches out and touches Jesus.
And then Jesus, knowing she had been healed, decides to call her out.

Why not just let her go on her way: she was healed after all.
If you were her, would you want the spotlight put on you?
Everyone’s eyes staring at you? 
It’s kind of harsh. Why would he do that?

There was something more that woman needed 
than just to have her bleeding problem stopped.
She had a problem that must have been embarrassing;
It separated her from others.

Perhaps this woman felt shame, ugly, unwanted and unloved.
She was disconnected from others, and she had been for 12 years.
She didn’t just need the blood problem fixed; 
She needed her connection with others restored.
To be loved, and know it. That’s the healing the woman needed.
Jesus wasn’t embarrassing her; he was pulling her from the shadows.

Then she told Jesus the whole truth.
One of the most healing things you and I can do 
when we have something we feel shame about, some dark habit, 
is to tell someone.
Being all alone with that gives it power.
Remember: what we need is to connect the right way.

Jesus wanted that woman to know she wasn’t just a stranger; 
she was family. He called her “daughter.” 

That’s the connection. You are a beloved child of God. And so am I.
I don’t know all the answers, but I have some good ideas.
But if you want to talk, and get it out,
I’m really good at listening and not repeating things. 
That is what priests do.
And I think I can help you find help.

And I’m going to remind you that no matter what separates you, 
what you think makes you totally outside, totally off, unworthy,
is just not big enough that God won’t say to you, 
you are beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.

God created this world to be a place of life.
He made you and me to be “imperishable.”
And he came into the world – he became one of us –
To raise us back to life.

You are the one to whom Christ is speaking in the Gospel.
You are the child, he says, “is not dead but asleep.”
And to you, his most loved child, he says, “Arise!”