Sunday, September 23, 2018

Detachment: what it is, how we gain it and why we need it (Sunday homily)

Flannery O'Connor

This homily is going to be all about one concept, one virtue.

That is something called “detachment.”

What do I mean by “detachment”?

I mean that freedom that comes from 
not being overly concerned with stuff, material things; 
or with pleasure, or food, or with success, 
or with the opinions of other people, or with having our own way.

In the second reading, St. James tells us: 
you have conflict because of your passions, because of greed and envy.
You want things too much, or in the wrong way.

Detachment is learning to dial down those passions and wants.

In the Gospel, Jesus confronts the Apostles 
over their longing for importance, for being admired and respected.
He puts a child in front of them and says, 
learn how to slow down, and pay attention to a child. 
That takes great patience and a certain lowliness.

I admit I have changed very few diapers, 
but I am very confident that when we think of heroic greatness, 
changing diapers is not the first thing we think of; or second, or tenth!

In other words, Jesus is telling them to learn to be detached 
from their dreams of glory and grandeur. 
Because if they don’t, they can never be his disciples. 
His disciples, Jesus told them, would take up the very same cross 
and go to the same crucifixion as he would. 
That was an image of shame, not glory – at least as they could grasp it.

Detachment means freedom. What you own, owns you.
What do we call it when someone is married, has a family, 
and builds a business? That he is “tied down.” 
Detachment is being free of these things.
That freedom means the ability to say “yes” 
where otherwise the answer would be “no.”
“Yes” to others; “yes” to opportunities for ourselves. “Yes” to God.

There’s a reason why young people are more likely 
to drop everything and go off on adventures and missions.
So much less to lose. They aren’t tied down yet.
And when we get that faraway look, longing to be young at heart, 
isn’t that part of recall fondly? That freedom? That detachment?

Let me add here that this is why all this talk 
of ordaining married men to be priests 
is not going to be the great solution people think.

I was 35 when I decided to enter the seminary. 
I had a good job and I owned a house. 
That was hard enough to leave behind.
What if I’d been married, and had a couple of young children?

So how do we gain this virtue of detachment?
Well, there are several ways it happens.
One path is that of suffering. Pain. Crisis. Loss.
Many of us have been there: 
nothing can so narrow our sense of what truly matters, 
as when we are in trouble, or someone we love is.

Another – and I am not recommending this – is the path of humiliation.
I think of Chuck Colson, who worked for President Nixon, 
a powerful man. Then he got caught up in the Watergate scandal. 
He went to jail. He was disgraced.

But in that abasement, he found God and he found his vocation.
He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for prison reform.
He changed a lot of peoples’ lives and brought about a lot of good.
But only after being detached from his pride and position 
all that he thought his life was about.

Now, we don’t want either of those paths, 
but we may get them nonetheless.
There is, however, a third path that we choose; and our Faith, 
and Jesus himself, have always told us to take this course.
It is the way of voluntary self-denial and penance.

You and I do this for six weeks of Lent. 
That’s the reason we give up things like 
candy and beer and video games. 
So that we don’t love them too much.

But where did we get the idea that we only need to do this in Lent?
Every Friday is supposed to be a day of penance. 
For Christians, penance is a feature of everyday life.
That’s what our parents meant by “offer it up.”
And, parents, I know you live this, 
when you rarely get a hot meal or a full night’s sleep. 
In addition to those dirty diapers!

Underneath all this is something else, and that is grace.
Grace is the help God gives us – in uncountable, constant ways – 
to help us grow in holiness, to help us become like him.
To become a saint, which is what God has planned for each of us.

Bishop Binzer told me something once I never forgot, 
and I have found to be true:
Be grateful for those people who drive you nuts, 
because they are helping you get to heaven.

We might also keep in mind something I learned 
from the great American author Flannery O’Connor, 
who wrote strange stories about bizarre people, 
and often times her stories were dark and violent.
She explained once that all her stories were about grace!
God’s grace!

The point she was making is that God’s grace, which will save us, 
isn’t necessarily something pretty or pleasant.
So it was for Chuck Colson, as I mentioned;
Or for Flannery O’Connor herself, who suffered terribly 
from chronic illness and died fairly young.
Or, of course, with the Cross itself that Jesus took up freely.

Nothing pretty, nothing charming. 
Totally frightening. Often overwhelming.
You and I don’t really know why this is the way it happens;
But…this is the way it happens.
To be free of what attracts and delights us in the world, 
as good as it all is – and it is all very good! –
But to be free: of the fear of pain, of death, of loss;
To be detached from stuff and pleasure, to be able to let go of it all:

Is to have hands and heart free to grasp and hold and possess 
the one thing, the only thing, worth having, 
that makes everything else worthwhile:
And that is Jesus Christ! 
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever, amen!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What does the name of Mary mean? (Holy Name of Mary)

I did a little research on this today. 
There is quite a lot written about this – not surprising, 
since it is the name of the loveliest and most beloved woman in history, 
the greatest woman in history, 
the woman who changed history completely!

What may be surprising, however, is how widely the debate ranges.

One theory is that it comes from a word meaning “bitter” – 
but why would Anna and Joachim give their gift from God such a name?

Another theory is that it means “drop of the ocean,” 
which is a dazzling thought; and through a copyist error, 
this turned into Stella Maris, which means “Star of the sea.” 

This mistake happened early, so we have reams 
of poems and tributes to our Lady as the Star of the Sea 
and churches under this title. 
As a result, I feel almost a cad to call it into question!
In any case, I am not saying there’s anything wrong 
with referring to the mother of the Lord as Stella Maris. 
I like it; you like it, and I feel very confident Jesus does too!

Then I discovered this.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia
the name may come from the word Mara, meaning “well fed one.” 

How odd! But the article went on to say that people of that time 
would “consider the idea of being well nourished 
as synonymous with beauty and bodily perfection, so that … 
Mary means therefore The beautiful or The perfect one.”

“The beautiful or the perfect one” – how fitting, 
as she is the one predestined by God to be full of grace, 
without stain of sin!
The ark of the new covenant! The seat of divine wisdom!

Sunday, September 09, 2018

How Jesus heals us and our Church (Sunday homily)

The past few weeks, I’ve touched on some bad news we’re all taking in. 
And I was hoping to take a different direction this week.
But I couldn’t help thinking about all that discouragement 
as I read these words in the first reading:

“Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!” 

We’re going to get through this.

But I thought about how much damage these scandals do.
And how many people are just laughing and mocking our Faith!
And I asked myself, how will people know Jesus is here?
How will they know this is God’s Church?

And it dawned on me:
They will know – not because of the sign in front of the church;
Not because of our history, important as that is;
Not because our church is pretty, 
or because we have sharp arguments for Catholicism 
that we learned from someone on the Internet.

No; they will know Christ is in our midst 
when they see the “eyes of the blind” being opened,
and deaf ears cleared, and those who are mute singing for joy.

In other words, maybe for the time being,
our focus isn’t on the Church; 
but on Jesus Christ!

Or, to put it another way: maybe for a while, 
it will be less about the words people hear us speak, 
and much more about the lives they see us live.

If there is blindness in our leaders – and there is – 
You and I aren’t going to fix it ourselves. 
If the voice of the Church is mute, because we’ve lost our credibility, 
only Jesus Christ is going to be able to heal that.

There’s a detail in the Gospel that maybe you noticed. 
It says, Jesus looked up to heaven, and he groaned!
Or it could be that he sighed. Why would Jesus react this way?

He’s feeling the weight of doubt and fear in the crowd;
The darkness and sin that hold so many captive.
All these things that need to be healed.
He feels the heaviness of all the lives
who need to be reconciled to God.

He knows that weight – he will carry it on Good Friday 
and it will knock him to the ground three times – 
but three times he gets back up and finishes his journey to the Cross. 
He sees it through.

Jesus knows the weight that is on your heart, on mine.
He knows; he feels it. 
Some of us need our eyes opened so we’ll see 
what we really don’t want to see – but we know it’s there.
The sin you and I aren’t quite ready to leave behind.
The help we are too proud to seek out.

Many of us have yet to find the words 
to speak to family, or fellow students at school, or coworkers:
Words of forgiveness, of apology, of reconciliation, of kindness.
If you ask, Jesus will loose your tongue and you will speak freely.
Ask, and the Holy Spirit will supply the courage.

So in other words, with the Church facing wounds and shame, 
what will lift our hearts? What will be light for us and others?

The healing I just described – and more beside – active in our midst. 
When folks see that, they will know we are Christians.

And if you can’t see any way to be part of this…
If you can’t identify anyone around you who needs any kind of healing,
and you can’t think of any way you can help make it happen…
If you can’t find one single person who needs Christ’s love,
Both in words and in deeds…

Then may I suggest that it might be you who needs to cry out to Jesus:
Lay your hands on me, Lord! Open my eyes, Lord! 
Help me to see how I can be healing to another!

Friday, September 07, 2018

What am I cooking?

Here are some ingredients. I'm beginning work on a dinner for tomorrow night.

What do you think I'm up to?

Update, 9/8/18, 10:30 am...

Two hints:

1) All the ingredients are not shown.

2) Do not assume it's all for one dish...

More hints to come.

Update, 12:06 pm...

Here are more hints:

Why is this bread still sitting out? Did it sit out all night?

Are those potatoes? Here's the meat again -- plus a newly revealed ingredient (it was in the freezer before)...

Here are my marked-up and dog-eared directions:

If you can decipher my notes, I'll tell you that I'm actually a bit ahead of schedule...

Update, 3 pm...

I am definitely ahead of schedule. I have just major one task before I head over for confessions and Mass.

Meanwhile, here are more photographic clues. Could these be basil leaves?

What will I do with these raisins?

Something cooking (cooling, actually) on the stove...

I better get back to work!

One more update before I go over for confessions. Just a few minutes ago, I combined the bread, bourbon-soaked raisins and the milk-cream-egg-sugar mixture. (Also some sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.) Now it goes into the fridge; I won't bake it till the main course comes out of the oven. This is my first time making this: I don't know if it's a bad idea to have it soak for 3 hours, but I don't have much choice.

Have you figured it out? I've shown you something of every dish I'm going to serve tonight. Hint: with the exception of the last item, I've made all the other things, some recently.

OK, there's the 3:30 pm bell! Got to go!

Update -- postmortem:

Sorry, no pictures, but when it all came ready, I wasn't taking time to snap photos!

Some of you guessed some of the items. Here's the full menu from last night:

Aperitivo: assorted olives, cheese and nuts with drinks
Antipasto: Caprese salad; i.e., fresh tomato slices, with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil.
Primo: Beef Wellington
Contorno: Mashed potatoes
Dulce: Bread pudding with whipped cream

Also coffee and digestivos followed, in the proper Italian way. (Well, not quite: I had coffee with the dessert, not after.)

How did everything turn out, you ask?

The Caprese salad had two challenges. The tomatoes weren't sliced neatly, and the basil wilted faster than I thought it would, but it all worked and tasted really good. Assembling five salads was a trick -- that is, I did them individually.

The Beef Wellington turned out well. I still have to figure out how to avoid the extra pastry on the ends; although that is pretty tasty, especially the next day, heated up and buttered for breakfast.

I put too much cream in the potatoes, and I wish I'd kept the pudding in the oven another ten minutes. The next time I make bread pudding (this was my first time), I'll add more bourbon and maybe use either brown sugar or maple syrup. Also, maybe sprinkle sugar over it before baking. But it turned out really well. Everyone had a good time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Our Lady of the Tomatoes

By the way, that isn't an official title of our Lady; but it is what I thought of when I saw the tomatoes sitting in front of her. There were several more there last week.

I snapped this photo yesterday morning. Later in the day I made a special trip to the store to get some buffalo mozzarella, which is perfect for Insalata Caprese. But the store had two kinds: buffalo and burrata, the latter being made with cream instead of milk. So I bought both. I'd had the buffalo before, so I tried the burrata when I made the following:

That is Insalata Caprese. It is very easy and very good. All you do is slice a good tomato (I peel off the skin), and then layer it with slices of the buffalo mozzarella and some fresh basil leaves, which I picked up as well. Over this drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with fresh pepper and salt. I laid all this on some Boston lettuce, but I didn't eat that. I thought that would look better. After having both the buffalo and the burrata, I prefer the buffalo.

I'm having some folks over for dinner Saturday and I'm thinking of making the salad for them. I'll have to get more basil and buffalo. I'm not sold on my presentation, above; maybe I'll put the basil on top.

The other way I like to prepare a fresh tomato is to slice it, and then dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil, pepper and salt. This is so good, and when I've eaten the tomato I drink the dressing. No need for lettuce.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

'Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.' (Sunday homily)

Listening to these readings, 
you’d think Moses, the Apostle James, and the Lord Jesus 
were all talking about the troubles we’re facing these days as Catholics!

Moses said: God gave you beautiful laws and truths, 
that all the world will envy, because of their wisdom.

And that is true. The Ten Commandments, 
the words of the prophets 
and the light of Christ’s teaching 
all shine in our Catholic Faith.

Unfortunately, some people, including some in positions of authority, 
have obscured this beauty by their crimes and neglect.

Maybe if some of our bishops and the cardinals and officials in Rome 
had been more concerned about being clean on the inside, 
being truly holy, we’d be better off. 
But like the Pharisees in the Gospel, 
they were only worried about appearances.

OK, so now that things are being cracked open a little, 
people are making accusations, and it’s all pretty upsetting. 
None of us wants to see this in the headlines.
None of us wants to think badly of the Holy Father.

But it’s out there, so let’s talk about it.

Let me share some things that may give you some encouragement.

For one, the report that came out about two weeks ago, 
from Pennsylvania, which was filled with accounts of horrible crimes,
was about things that happened more than 20 years ago. 
That is not to excuse any of it; 
but you should know that there is accountability for priests today 
that wasn’t true then. 

Second, you need to know that men who are admitted to the seminary 
these days undergo pretty intense scrutiny. 
This has been true for at least 20 years.

And third, you deserve to know that priests, deacons, seminarians,
parish employees and parish volunteers all live under 
very specific requirements of accountability.

Still, with all these accusations flying back and forth – going all the way to Rome – 
and wondering what other shoes may drop –
itt’s alarming and dispiriting. So what do you and I do?

This week I touched base with a number of seminarians, 
including the three from this parish. 
I wanted to know how they were bearing up.

They said they are doing fine.
Almost to a man, they saw this as a sign to redouble their commitment. 
To persevere, because the Church needs holy priests. 

I told them we’re praying for them. They know it. They are grateful.
But they are not discouraged.
They know there is a big job; perhaps even bigger than they realized.
The Church has wounds – someone has to tend them.
People need to know who Jesus is. That hasn’t changed.
Who will tell them? Rather, who will show them?

That’s not just my job, you know. It’s not just the seminarians’ job.

Every single one of us is a member of the Body of Christ.
What St. James said in the second reading, he says to everyone here:
“Welcome the Word” that is in your hearts: that is, Jesus Christ!

And notice how he tells us to show the world the face of Jesus:
“Care for widows and orphans in their affliction”…
And keep yourself “unstained by the world.”

I know a lot of Catholics are asking: what should I do?
The Apostle James just told you what to do.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
How? I’ve already mentioned, the other week, 
the need to write Archbishop Schnurr. 
Let him know what’s in your heart.

And, like our seminarians, see this as a time to grow in holiness.
The Church never needed lukewarm believers, but oh boy, 
we sure don’t need that now. We need more saints.
How? Do what St. James said, that’s how.

However unsettling news reports may be, don’t let it get to you.
The rottenness has to be rooted out. It’s not pleasant.
I believe Jesus will purify his Church. 
My job and yours is to let him work through us.