Sunday, December 30, 2018

'Transgender' war on humanity, family and God (Sunday homily)

Today is this feast of the Holy Family, 
And I want to talk about a particular question regarding the family.
I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to be a “feel good” homily;
I’ll just tell you that right out of the gate.

What is “family”?
This is not actually a religious question at all.
You don’t have to believe in God to know what family is, 
because everyone, no matter who you are,  
you were born of mother and a father.

Now, we know that families are not always intact. 
Death, money troubles, divorce, war, and many other things 
disrupt and re-shape our families.

Some parents heroically raise children alone.
Or they marry again, creating blended families.
Some parents seek out children to welcome into their homes.

That they don’t all match the traditional template
does not keep us from knowing what a family IS, 
and what works best for human flourishing.

Now, family life has always faced trials and disruption.
But a very different storm is brewing now, 
It’s coming fast and strong, across our whole country.
It’s not just Hollywood or a few big cities; it’s everywhere.
I am talking about the denial – the cancelling out – of the family itself.

Do you know what “transgender” refers to?
This is a real situation some people face.
Sometimes a man or a boy is not at peace with himself, and wonders, 
maybe I am not a man, but a woman; and the same in reverse.

This is not a joke. The suffering is real. 
Why it happens isn’t altogether clear, 
but often it has to do with broken relationships, violence or trauma. 
Pornography makes it worse.  
Along with this comes depression, destructive behavior, even suicide. 
All this merits our compassion and concern.

Now, I’m going to say some tough things, 
but they aren’t directed to the suffering people I mentioned. 
Rather, I’m talking about powerful forces 
who are manipulating this moment. They have an agenda. 

In government, the media, and outside pressure-groups 
see this as the moment to call into question, and entirely reshape, 
what it means to be human and be a family.

Here’s what these folks are saying:
That there is nothing special about a father, or a mother.
Two dads; three moms? It makes no difference.

They claim:
To be a boy or to be a girl is no more than a matter of choice – 
it has nothing to do with the body you have. 
With a straight face, they say: men can have babies. 

You can laugh, but this agenda is showing up everywhere. 
Well-funded lawyers are seeking out sympathetic judges 
and rewriting our laws daily.

You know who’s all in? Not only the entertainment industry.
How about the largest publishers of books…for children.

The medical profession is being targeted.
Doctors and other health-care professionals 
are under intense pressure to give it their seal of approval, 
and worst of all, to participate in so-called “therapy.”

None of this has anything to do with science, it’s garbage.
Again: I’m not talking about people’s suffering. That’s real.
But all this about bodies don’t matter? 
That you and I can simply reinvent ourselves with hormones or surgery? 
It is all a lie.

That’s not just me saying that.
There was a doctor who pioneered this sort of surgery 70 years ago. 
He did it for decades, till I finally quit and said, it was a lie.

Some will say, why should I care? Let people do what they want.

Across the country, children are being encouraged to say, 
“I’m not a girl, I’m a boy.” And when they reach puberty, 
these girls wrap tight bindings around their chest, 
to hide their natural development.
The result is chronic pain and lasting physical damage.

Other children are being given drugs 
to prevent puberty from beginning. 
Or they are given powerful doses of hormones, 
so that if they are a girl, their body will develop male characteristics,
and if they are boys, to develop in female ways.

And worst of all is surgery, that amputates healthy body parts 
and creates fake body parts, to perpetuate the delusion.

To repeat: this isn’t just adults doing this, but also children.
And when parents refuse to go along, judges take their children away!
That happened here in Ohio, just last year.

And I might add that even after all this, 
people who “transition” still have terrible problems – both physical, 
because of the damage done to their bodies – and emotional. 
Suicide is very common.

I’ve come a long way from the Holy Family, I know.
And the obvious question is, so what do we do?

I wish I had an easy, three-step plan, but I don’t.
You and I not only live in a post-Christian era, but increasingly, 
we are discovering that this is a post-truth era.

“Post-truth”? What does that mean?
It means that for lots of people, 
reason and facts and explanation do not matter.
All that matters is people getting what they want.

That’s the heart of this problem: 
Instead if the truth governing desire; it’s the opposite:
my desire creates my “truth.”

So if you come to me and say, look, science, look, medicine, 
look, human development; in other words, you lay out an argument…

The post-truth me is going to wave it all away, and say,
“I make my own truth! Give me what I want, or you are a bigot!”
And right now, people are being fired and ruined over this.
This is going to get a lot worse.

So, what do you and I do? Hold on to two things:
Truth…and Love.
There is no authentic love without the truth;
And without love, truth becomes a merciless weapon.

There is never a need to humiliate or berate anyone.
We don’t have to be spoiling for a fight.
All the same, brace yourself with prayer and study and encouragement, 
because the wind may blow more suddenly fiercer than you imagine.

At the outset I asked, “what is family?” 
And the highest truth about the family is that,
as important as it is for our well-being,
it is also the sign God created to reveal himself.
The family – father, mother, child – is an icon of God the Trinity.

So now you know why this is happening.
Behind lots of people doing different things for different reasons, 
there is a ruthless enemy striking at the family 
in order to strike at God. 

The devil hates us as much as he hates God;
And his aim is to disconnect us from our true selves, 
along the way to separating us from the God who created us for communion with him.

In the coming storm, there may not be much more 
you and I can do than to brace ourselves on the Rock of Truth, 
and to say, “You can hate me, you can punish me, but I will not lie. 
I will not deny the truth about who you are, who I am, and who God is.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

What is Christmas about? (Christmas homily)

What is Christmas about, really?

It’s obviously more than celebrations and decorations and songs – 
all this fun has to be about something else, right?
Even if a lot of people don’t seem to know that, or remember.

Christmas is even about more than a child being born 
and shepherds adoring. 
The angels told the shepherds, that the child being born is a “sign”; 
a sign points to something still greater.

So what is that greater thing that Christmas is really about?

It can be summed up in the words of St. Athanasius, who said: 
“God became man so that man might become God.” 
Let me repeat that, so you really hear it: 
“God became man so that man might become God.”

Yes, he really said that. And so did a lot of other 
fathers and doctors of the Church. 
It’s in the Catechism, paragraph 460.

What does this mean?

It means more. That you and I are for more; made for more. 
More than 99% of what occupies our time, bad, good or indifferent. 
You and I are meant to be life-givers and world-changers. 
To be saints. Saints Louis & Zelie Martin – have you even heard of them? 

They were an ordinary Catholic couple, 
striving to get each other and their children to heaven. 
You’ve heard of their daughter: St. Therese of Lisieux. 
Yet she, too, decided she would not do any great thing, 
but do lots of little things out of great love. 
Her little way captured hearts around the world.

St. John Vianney was a poor student, a humble priest. 
He spent his life in one small country parish, 
and most of that time, in the confessional. 
They came from all over France to see him. 

Mother Theresa was called to care for the poorest of the poor. 
All she did was bathe and feed beggars, one at a time. 
She moved the world.

You and I are called to be saints. 
A saint is that person who accepts the Christmas Gift: 
That God became man so that men and women might become God.

What does this mean? It explains everything about the Gospel; 
it is what the whole Bible, the whole of God’s actions with humanity, are leading toward. 
God wants us to be with him, united with him, 
transformed by him, made new in a New Creation. 
To live in him, and he living in us, in a new heavens and a new earth.

Up until about the age of 25, we want to get older. We can’t wait! 
But then, who wants to get old? Where is it leading us? 
If only to decline and death, nothing is more depressing. 
But what if it’s leading to something new? 
Jesus was born among us to give us life – he could have mailed it in, 
but he came in person. 

He put himself on the cross of suffering that we all face.
Christ led the way into the valley of death 
and came back victorious in his resurrection! 

He did that to show what life he has in store for us – 
and what makes this life worth living, no matter what. Why?

Because God became man so that men might become God.

This is what baptism begins and confirmation continues. 
This is what confession restores when we turn off the path of life.
This transformation is what the Holy Eucharist nourishes. 
And this is the meaning and purpose 
of the consecration to Jesus, through Mary, 
which we will make together at Mass on New Year’s Eve and Day.

For this reason, the number one enemy of the human race 
is not hunger or war, unemployment or sickness or even death, 
as terrible as those things are. 
No, our greatest enemy is sin, because none of those other things 
can separate us from God and lead us to hell.

So when people try to tame Christmas, and say, it’s about a baby, 
a family in trouble, such a nice story…aren’t the lights pretty? 
Isn’t this a special time?

This is an awesome time! But what makes it so…
Is that God became man so that we might become God.
I know that sounds impossible. Grandiose. 
Perhaps it even sounds a little blasphemous, but it’s not. 

Only God is God. But he chooses to lift us up into his life; 
to be, as St. Peter says in one of his letters, 
“partakers of divine nature.” God created us in Paradise; but we left. 
He has wanted us back ever since. 

When God gives, he is not like us: he holds nothing back. 
So what did he give to the world on Christmas? His very self. 
And again on the Cross? And again on Pentecost? 
And again in each of the sacraments? 
What does he give us in the Mass, to feed us and transform us?

His very self. What does he hold back from us? Nothing!

Still, we might ask: why come as a child? 

Because then a child can come and say, I look like God. 
Because when God is born poor, and lives poor and hidden, 
then all those who are forgotten and neglected, 
can behold the Savior and say, I look like God. 
So that when the child grows up and is abused and wronged, 
all those who are oppressed in this world can say, I look like God. 

And when Jesus suffers and dies, 
all those facing pain and death know they are not alone, 
and that God has wounds, too. Wounds he is not ashamed of.
What is Christmas about? 
Christmas is an invitation.   

The God-man, the Christ Child, he invites you. 
You’re here in his presence, right now. 
He offers himself and all his Gifts to you. 
To make us divine; to make an exchange: 
your life to him, and his to you. 
That’s the invitation. What will you do?


Post script: In case you’re wondering, who else said it?

Justin Martyr
Gregory of Nyssa
Cyril of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Theophilus of Antioch
Hippolytus of Rome
Maximus the Confessor
Basil of Caesarea
Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Best Christmas Films: my Top Ten

What are the best Christmas movies, and why? And what are the worst?

Of course, “best” and “worst” can be taken a lot of ways. Is it about the quality of the film itself as art – which may not mean its message about Christmas itself is so good; or is it a “best” or “worst” precisely because of what it says about Christmas? Maybe it's both. Honestly, as I assembled my list, I realized that few so-called Christmas movies really have anything to do with the birth of Jesus. Maybe that's a compliment: film-makers recognize they really can't top the Gospel of Luke.

At any rate, here’s my list of my top ten:

1. It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946, by Frank Capra, with James Stewart and Donna Reed. The film itself isn’t a lot about Christmas, as is the case with lots of “Christmas” movies. But it’s a powerful message: how much difference we make by choosing virtue. I tear up pretty much every time I watch it.
2. Miracle on 34th Street, 1947, by George Seaton, with Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Hara. Again, avoid all others! This is the original and best. All about Santa Clause, really. A well written script; it makes you realize what really is possible.
3. A Christmas Carol, 1951, by Brian Desmond Hurst, with Alistair Sim. (Or the 1984 version by Clive Donner, with George C. Scott.) Curiously, this famous Christmas story has very little to do with Christmas, but it has a lot to do with redemption and hope. Warning: not all variations on the story of Scrooge are created equal!
4. The Bishop’s Wife, 1948, by Henry Koster, with Cary Grant and Loretta Young. (FYI, it’s a Protestant bishop, in case you were wondering.) This one actually talks about Jesus; and Cary Grant is, as always, lots of fun. David Niven gives a halfway decent sermon.
5. The Apartment, 1960, by Billy Wilder, with Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine. You may be surprised to see Fred McMurray as the heavy, but he does it well. Such a beautiful story. Again, NALAC (not a lot about Christmas). This might actually be the best film on this list, but on a list of Christmas films, I can't see it higher.
6. The Shop Around the Corner, 1940, by Ernst Lubitsch, with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. If you haven’t heard of Lubitsch, that’s too bad, because he had a deft touch. He may be better known for To Be or Not to Be, set in Nazi-occupied Poland. Hard to imagine a comedy in such a setting, but he pulled it off.
7. A Christmas Story, 1983, by Bob Clark, with Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Very funny nostalgia, not too sweet. Is Jesus even alluded to?
8. White Christmas, 1954, by Michael Curtiz, with Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. It’s not a deep film, but the cast is good. Anyway, I like it!
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1967. Avoid all other versions. Is this a movie? Not really, but it’s a lot of fun. 
10. Trading Places, 1983, by John Landis, with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Again, not much about Christmas, but a fun story.

Bonus! This isn’t a film, but a short story: “The Gift of the Magi,” 1905, by O. Henry. It’s been adapted into films and plays, but I’m not familiar with any of them. I actually read this! If you think any particular film or TV production is especially fine, let me know.

In the spirit of Christmas, I will refrain from a list of worst Christmas films, but don’t let me stop you! Or, give your nominations for best – but please, explain why.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

We can either sabotage joy; or increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass; 
we didn’t actually use it, but we might have. 
In Latin it would be, “Gaudete in Domino semper”; 
Or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

When we think of “joy,” maybe we imagine someone 
with a wide grin plastered on her face.
We think of happiness or bliss.
But joy is something deeper. It may or may not come with a smile.
But it always comes with peace, immense peace.

In the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is that overwhelming feeling that fills us 
when we realize we are loved – above all, by God.

Here is a story of joy – and it will surprise you,
Because it involves suffering and loss, and how can that be about joy?

There was a couple I knew in Piqua; call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married over sixty years. 
When Helen became very ill, 
the family gathered around her in the hospital, and they called me. 
I vividly recall how crowded that hospital room was; 
and everyone was praying. Bill was sitting beside his wife, 
holding her hand. They were praying one Hail Mary after another.

This went on for awhile, till Ellen couldn’t speak. 
Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.
That’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

We don’t always get good news. 
Truth is, what happened for Bill and Helen 
comes to us all sooner or later; it really hurts at Christmastime. 

But there is a powerful reason why that experience was truly joyful. 
Not because there was no pain;
But because those hearts were united in faith, in love, and in hope.
The Holy Spirit was filling that hospital room. That’s the joy!

Now it occurs to me that we sabotage joy, in two ways.

First, in getting balled up in anxiety. 

Paul says “have no anxiety at all.” How do we do that? 
Well, Paul talks about prayer, petition and thanksgiving
So the next time you are anxious, try those three. 
Try to pray, including petitions to God about the things that worry you, 
and then take time to recall all that you are thankful for.

The second thing we do to sabotage joy is holding onto sins, 
both our own, and others’.

In the first reading, Zephaniah told us, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Look: people wound us, and it’s hard not to remember that.
It’s difficult not to harbor that memory.
But who’s carrying the burden of that? You are! 
To forgive someone does not mean the wrong never happened.
It doesn’t mean what that person did to you was OK.
Rather, to forgive is to turn that person over to God.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.
The more generously you and I experience being forgiven, 
the easier it becomes to be generous in mercy toward others.

OK, so those are ways we let the joy drain out of our lives.
But the Gospel shows us three ways we can have more, much more joy.

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
That means giving away half! 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 

I confess, I am certainly not that generous. 
But when I have those moments, it lifts my heart,
Even if it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 

This is why we will never stop being a voice for the unborn.  
There is a bill in the Ohio legislature 
that would restrict the death penalty 
from being applied to those with severe mental illness.
There is information about this in today’s bulletin.

I haven’t talked much about the situation on our southern border, because it’s complicated, 
and nations do have the right to control their borders. 

Still, we can ask, is how our government is handling it now 
really the best way? Could employers take a greater role?
Can we do more to facilitate legal entry into our country? 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
We first receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, 
and in a deeper way in confirmation. 
When we go to confession, it is the Holy Spirit who washes us clean.
It is the Holy Spirit who, at Mass, brings us to the Cross, 
and who changes bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

But that’s only some of the ways the Holy Spirit is at work.
He is always with us, always helping us.

It’s kind of like on a summer night, 
when you turn off the TV and the computer 
and everything finally becomes quiet, 
do you notice how suddenly you hear things in the background?
Crickets and frogs and trees rustling, and even faraway sounds?
It was there all the time – but you couldn’t hear it!

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you open up to him; 
And it won’t hurt to turn off the TVs and computers!

Jesus said, “ask, and you shall receive.” 
He didn’t mean winning basketball games or getting good grades; 
but he did mean, asking for more of his life. 
Ask for the Holy Spirit, and you SHALL receive!

And that is what true joy is.

Monday, December 10, 2018

More on the 'transgender' threat

This is a follow up to a recent homily, taken from the parish bulletin, slightly edited. 

Let’s talk plainly about so-called “trangenderism.” What is it? And why should you or I care?

For various reasons, some hard to discern, some people experience a “dysphoria” or disconnection from their physical identity as male or female.  It can be temporary or life-long. While some people may think this is all a big joke, the suffering is real.  It can involve depression, addiction and suicide.

In recent decades, it has been possible for people to obtain artificial hormones, and even surgery, in order to remake their bodies to conform to their self-perception. What is not well known is that even these drastic steps are often not satisfactory. In those cases, some will ‘transition” back to their original identity; or else they will spiral down into deeper darkness.

Why is ‘transgenderism’ on the march? Until just recently, we understood as a society that this was abnormal. But now powerful forces are working to force society to embrace these experiences as normal. Even worse: what was always known to be a scientific fact (that male and female are physical realities) has now been transformed into not only a mere “belief,” but an expression of bigotry!

The word for this is madness. 

I mean not so much the people who experience this dysphoria; I don’t want to add anything to their suffering. Rather, I mean the madness of other people, whether in government, in the media, and in so many other places, who go along with this or try to coerce others into accepting it.

Why you should care. Last year a judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, took a child away from her parents, and placed the child in her grandparents’ custody, precisely because the parents would not go along with this fake science; would not go along with hormones or surgeries that would mutilate their child. But the grandparents would. So the government took sides.

Also: in many places, schools are getting intense pressure. Girls will be in a locker room, and a boy—who now claims to be a girl—is undressing in their presence; and the girls must undress in that boy’s presence. This has happened without parents knowing about it or having recourse. In many sports, girls are losing competitions because boys-claiming-to-be-girls have greater physical strength and thus tend to win. Everyone knows it’s wrong but no one dares protest, for fear of being labelled a “bigot.”

If you or someone you care about is in the medical profession, be scared. There are powerful voices demanding that doctors perform procedures and operations, and proscribe hormones, contrary to their own medical judgment and conscience. In many places, it is now illegal for counselors and psychologists to offer therapy that might help a young person reject same-sex desires. Don’t be surprised if the same groups demand that doctors not counsel someone away from becoming “transgender.”

Worse: this ideology is being promoted to young, impressionable children, and surprise! Children are discovering that they are also transgender. In Britain, where this movement is further along, schools are reporting drastic increases in children discovering they aren’t the sex they thought they were. And children are being given drugs and even mutilating operations. If this makes you want to throw up, that is a good response. But it can’t be our only response.

Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be passive. 

If you find all this overwhelming, remember that in 1940, Fascism, Communism and Nazism seemed unstoppable; and they nearly were. Yet they were defeated. Evil will not have the last word. Pray. Be well informed. Be loving but unbending about the truth. It is not compassionate to nod and smile when someone else plans to do him- or herself grave harm. You may not be able to stop it, but we must not give our approval or help. And wait patiently for our God in heaven to act, as he will in his time; and indeed, he almost certainly already is, but in ways we do not comprehend.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Want to feel splendor? Go to confession (Sunday homily)

Before I get into the heart of the matter, two little commercials. 
First, if you are taking part in the Consecration to Jesus through Mary, 
working through the book we passed out, 
please turn in those cards from the books. 
You can put them in the collection 
or drop them off at the parish office.

And second, remember the retired members of religious orders. 
They gave all they had for us, 
and now they are elderly and need care in their late years. 
They took vows of poverty, giving up wealth and bank accounts.
They depend on our generosity. 
Please give to the second collection for them.

Now, let’s back up to the first reading we heard.
The prophet Baruch lived at a time when everything had gone to pieces. 
God’s People had gone through a long, slow decline, 
in their political fortunes, in their moral state, 
and in their spiritual lives. 

Finally their nation is destroyed 
and the Jewish people are scattered to the four winds, 
an utter catastrophe. 
What does Baruch say? 
Hang on: there will be a return, not in shame, but in splendor.

That fits pretty well with John the Baptist who says, prepare the way! 
The “return” that Baruch and John are interested in 
is above all about a reunion of our hearts with God. 

Baruch, among others, hoped to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem 
that had been destroyed. 
That temple was understood as a place where humanity could return 
to a kind of paradise – in which God and humanity are together again.

But remember what Jesus revealed: he, himself, is the temple. 
You and I are reunited with God 
In being baptized and confirmed in the Holy Spirit, 
And in sharing in his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. 
And when we forget we belong to God and depart Paradise through sin, 
the sacrament of confession opens the way again to the Tree of Life, 
which is the Holy Mass, 
where you and I eat the fruit of the tree of life.

So it’s another Sunday of Advent, and Christmas is two weeks away. 
Everything on TV, the radio, in stores and restaurants, 
Is of course, already Christmas, Christmas! 
What is this time of Advent, what does it really mean?

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again: 
Advent is really about eternity, about heaven. 
It’s about that reunion with God that will be complete 
and will last forever. 

What about Christmas?
That’s about heaven, too! Why did Jesus come? 
To create business opportunities for the post office, Wal Mart, Amazon and UPS? No! 
He came in time, in Bethlehem, a long time ago, as a down-payment of heaven. 

Jesus came to give us a little bit of heaven here on earth, 
so we would not be like the people Baruch was talking to, 
who were so beat down and tempted to give up. 
So tempted to say, we’re lost, we have no hope.

So if you are feeling discouraged; 
If you are sad or blue, as sometimes people do at this time of year;
If the darkening days dim your mood;
If God seems far away, or your life seems a wreck;
If news from here, or there or everywhere dismays you?

Then hear John the Baptist speak directly to you: there is a way! 
Prepare the way, clear and straight, for Jesus to enter your heart! 
Building roads through mountains and swamps is rough, tedious work.

Bringing hope into our gloomy and frustrated hearts is right at hand.
Only a glance at Christ, a word to entrust yourself to him.
There will be many opportunities for confession the next two weeks, 
here and in neighboring parishes. Watch the bulletin.

Keep going with the 33 days of consecration to Jesus through Mary. 
She is a trustworthy help and guide.

Jesus wants to give you a little bit of the splendor of heaven, 
in your heart. A hot shower feels wonderful; 
but a clean conscience after a good confession – 
leaving no fear or worry? Feels awesome!
Let Jesus make his way into your heart. Let him in!

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Turning toward the Lord at Holy Mass

This is rewritten from a recent parish bulletin.

As everyone knows, over the past four years, our parish has gradually gained experience with this ancient practice, both in the traditional Latin Mass, and in the newer form of Mass. We’ve experienced it at daily Mass on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and in the past year, we’ve had Mass this way on holy days of obligation, and on Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.

While I understand not everyone shares my enthusiasm, even so I must tell you that the response when we’ve had Mass on the high altar has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have told me that they find this spiritually meaningful and nourishing. Many tell me that it just makes sense to them. Given that this is so meaningful to many, I think it’s best for all concerned if we try to meet the different needs of all.

Some will say, but it’s not something I care for. I understand. That’s why we have lots of Masses  offered using the low altar, with the priest turned toward the people. Surely we can all have a live-and-let-live attitude, and allow for some legitimate diversity? No one is being denied anything; we are simply providing more options.

When I talk about this as Mass “toward the Lord,” I don’t mean to emphasize a posture toward the tabernacle, although that is incidentally true. Rather, the main point of this posture – usually called “ad orientem” (which means toward the east) – is that the priest and people are all oriented (1) the same way: that’s the main thing; it is also (2) toward “liturgical” east, almost always symbolized by the apse of the church. The emphasis on “east” is because of so many associations, from Scripture and Tradition, between the east, the source of new light – i.e., the rising sun – the Resurrection, and the hope for Christ to come again. Above all, that common posture is toward the sacred action on the altar.

This arises from a misunderstanding of Vatican II.

There is a very common misperception that Vatican II requires a priest to face the people at the altar. This is not so. Vatican II actually said nothing whatsoever about this. Even when the Mass was revised in the wake of Vatican II, the new Mass did not require the priest to face the people! To say it again: there is simply no rule or norm that dictates whether the priest is facing the people, or on the same side of the altar, with the people.

Anyone who wants proof of this can simply look at the Missal (the large book of prayers used by the priest for Mass); at various points, it specifically instructs the priest to face the people. But there would be no need to give that instruction if he was already and always facing the people. Rather, what this indicates is that the priest might either be facing them, or not – depending on the arrangement of the altar.

That said, it is true that in the years after Vatican II, it became extremely common for the priest to face the people across the altar; so much so, that this was the only experience of the Mass most Catholics, and most priests, had. It was Pope Benedict who really highlighted this issue in his book (written before he was pope) called The Spirit of the Liturgy. There, he explained beautifully – and I think, persuasively – that there were unanticipated downsides to having the priest facing the people; namely, that Mass can become too much about the priest and his personality, and the people are expected to focus on him. Also, unrealized benefits to having both the people and the priest in a common posture: that the priest isn’t the central focus, and that there is a more obvious emphasis on all concerned, priest and people, having a shared focus on the Lord himself. He encouraged exploration of this legitimate option; and that is what I have been doing.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Jesus is coming? Jesus is here! (Sunday homily)

Do you know what word appears in each of the readings? 
That word is “coming.” Did you notice?

A long time ago, I had a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!”

It’s a funny joke, but it dumb plan of action.

That’s why Jesus says that some people 
will be so terribly afraid when he does come at the end of time. 
They know that “looking busy” isn’t going to cut it.

Do you know what, on the other hand, is a good plan?
In fact, a perfect plan? Here it is:

Live every day not as if Jesus is coming, some faraway day; 
But rather, live every day as if he is already here, right now.

If you’re at work, and everything you do 
is what you’d do if the owner of the business is at your right hand, 
you’ll never worry, right?

And, of course, Jesus is at your right hand, every day, every moment.
There’s no place he would rather be.

This past week, many of us starting reading 
Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory.
It’s a book of daily reflections 
leading to a consecration to Jesus through Mary.
If possible, you started on November 29, with the 33 days taking us 
to January 1, the feast of the Mother of God. 
But maybe you forgot. No problem! The books are here. Free!
Anyone, any age, is welcome to work through this. 
Do it as a family, or on your own if no one else is doing it.
You can catch up, it’s really easy.

And notice the “commitment cards” in the books. 
I should have suggested you put them in the collection today; 
but you can bring them next week. 

Those cards will help me connect you to a small group, afterward, 
if you’d like that as a help to continue to grow spiritually.

And I also want to know how many parishioners want to participate 
in a group consecration, whether it’s a small or large number.
So, that is why I ask you to turn in the cards.

Yes, Jesus is coming at the end of time to complete his Kingdom.
But why worry? He’s here, right now, for you and me.
Let him be king now, and you’ll never have to worry about later.