Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wounded families can be holy families (Sunday homily)

This time of year, we all have those picture-perfect 
images of families – celebrating the ideal Christmas – 
that are impossible to live up to. 

Our families aren’t perfect, and sometimes are cause for tears, 
especially when we’re together.
So it was with my family, growing up; maybe yours, too. 

On this Feast of the Holy Family, 
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life, 
we neglect those who are single, 
or those whose married life together has been shattered.

We often don’t know what to say. 
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you; 
and I do want to welcome you!”

Some people don’t “fit the mold”; 
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage. 
It’s not our place to redefine marriage; 
but it is certainly our place—indeed, our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery, 
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!

Let me just say here something that may not be obvious.
The conflict in our time – between what marriage has always been, 
and how our contemporary culture has re-engineered it – 
is ultimately about diverging ideas of what happiness is;
and that leads to vastly different understandings of what marriage is. 
Look: everyone wants to be happy. 
No one in his right mind refuses happiness.

One view – which is almost completely triumphant today – 
is that you and I “create” happiness, 
as we create our own lives, our own truth.

With so many today persuaded of this, of course they will say,
Why can’t marriage leave children out?
Who says marriage is forever?
And why can’t we redefine marriage to suit ourselves?

The older view – which is basically Biblical – 
is that, instead of creating happiness,
you and I find happiness along the way;
That is, along the way to pursuing other things,
Like faithfulness, duty, generosity and courage.

The really hard lesson to learn is that 
when we make “being happy” the central thing, 
we may only achieve at best a pale imitation; or else, not at all.

On the other hand, when you and I set out to give ourselves away, 
True happiness comes to us, usually mixed with burning tears.

So when we talk about the Holy Family, 
it is not the family of self-creation and self-fulfillment.
The point of focusing on the Holy Family is not that it’s ideal;
But that this is how God entered our very broken, human family.

Christ knows well how “dysfunctional” our families can be. 
That’s exactly why he came!

Things happen in our families and our homes we don’t like to talk about: 
Alcoholism or other addictions; 
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence; 
depression or other emotional problems. 

Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross; 
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—and neither should we!

To make matters worse, some of these issues aren’t dealt with openly, 
but instead become shameful secrets, wounds that never heal.

Don’t we call this the season of Light? 
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds. 
Will we let him?

Christ, who came to carry the Cross 
of all our human sinfulness, 
will give you courage and walk beside each of us 
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?

Our second reading talks about the role 
each of us has in our families. 

Christ is the child among us—should he witness 
parents berating and demeaning each other?

Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked. 
But do you think he would have tolerated music 
that demeans women and exults violence?

Christ was a worker; 
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.

Christ the man saw women as Images of God, 
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.

Men, are you and I “man enough” 
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?

And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met; 
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector, 
not the leper or the alien.

And he will never shame nor despise any of us 
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets…whatever they may be.

Yes, our families are far from the ideal. 
But this is the great human family Jesus chose to make his own!
Precisely by welcoming Jesus into this mess is how
We make our families “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card, 
but because we let Christ bring courage, 
and healing, and hope:

Not to the families of our dreams, 
but to the real family life we actually have.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

I'll be home for Christmas -- in heaven! (Christmas homily)

This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”
It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Many times I’ll meet people after Christmas Mass 
who are strangers to me;
then I learn that while they grew up here and moved away, 
this parish is home to them – to you – 
and it is I who am the stranger.

Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 
“Home for the Holidays.” 
Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 
but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.

Yet the more I thought about it, 
I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.

It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.
Every single one of us is.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 
The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”
That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.

As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.
Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;
They left the Garden; they left home.

And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!
He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.
God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –
What the cold world of time cannot give us:
Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,
He says something odd: 
“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”
What could that mean?

It means this:
That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”
In that call was a promise that God would one day be here – 
for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or ritual, 
but in flesh and blood. 

In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 
God becoming one of us.

And it’s always been about the Cross, 
because what does it mean to say God is with us,
if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?

Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.
I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.

So it was always about Resurrection, which means,
Not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,
But Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!
What a way for God to make his home with us!
And as those annoying commercials always say, “Wait: there’s more!”

God came and made his home with us, in our exile;
Always with us, often hidden, often ignored;
Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.

This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?
How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 
but not what it refers to?
What good is a “season of lights” 
That is about no more than electricity or candles?

God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:
To bring you and me home: home to him.
That is “joy to the world”;
Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “Peace on earth.” 

And what you and I see before our eyes – 
what the prophets and patriarchs
could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 
that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.

This church, this place, 
this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.
Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.

With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,
But of that Place – of heaven.

In the incarnation, God became man;
By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!
Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!

All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 
to make us long all the more for our true home,
the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.

I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.
We all try so hard to make Christmas special,
to make everything sparkle and glow;

As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.
Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,
but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:
We want to go home! 
To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Less Ahaz, much more Joseph (Sunday homily)

There are two very different men in the readings.
There’s a pretty clear contrast.

Ahaz knows what he needs, what he wants, what he is going to do.
He is not going to ask for help.
No one can tell him anything. 

And then there’s Joseph. He feels all the same emotions, 
but there’s one, key difference: he prays. He listens.
He can admit he is wrong.
He is not too proud to ask for help.
Joseph can change direction, 
even if it is humiliating, which it probably was.

There’s a lot more Ahaz in me than I want to admit. A whole lot more.

Ahaz refused God’s help; but God had a “Plan B.”
The plan went forward, but I wonder what “Plan A” looked like?

What keeps you and I me from the Plan A’s is usually pride.
Fear of looking ridiculous. Anger often goes with that.
And sin and being too stubborn to go to confession.
Making excuses for not praying, or rushing my prayers.

Or we get to a certain point in our lives 
and we’re old dogs who aren’t going to learn any new tricks.
We might think of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.
When God came to him, he said, “I’m too old.”

Thankfully, Zachariah had his “Come to Jesus” moment 
and got back on track. No need for Plan B that time!

So, this is really simple: who will you be? 
Ahaz, who refused to listen?
Zachariah, who needed a whack upside his head to wake him up?
Or Joseph, who God could talk to? 
Joseph, who wasn’t too proud to listen and change?

Of course, when I put it that way…

You want to be Joseph? Be Joseph
Imitate his chastity and self-control, 
because that teaches us to put others’ needs ahead of our wants.

Imitate his prayer – oh, and he was busy, too;
he didn’t live a life of leisure. 
Joseph wasn’t too proud to confess his sins.
Joseph asked for God’s help – and he got it.
It was still a rough life, 
but God let him safely through and safely home.

And the reason Joseph had courage to take that path
Was not because that courage came out of nowhere,
But because he’d been faithful and practiced virtue all along;
That made him ready when his moment came.

If God gives you an inspiration or a task, don’t turn away from it. 
Don’t say, “I’m too old,” “I’m too young,” or “Now’s not the time.” 
We turn away from those graces, thinking we can always do it later.
But later doesn’t always come.
Don’t be Ahaz. Be Joseph. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

New film helps you see what Mass really is

It's called "The Veil Removed." Simply awesome! See it here.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

If you're discouraged, you don't have to be alone (Sunday homily)

In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus puts before us
the life and example of his friend and cousin, John the Baptist. 
That is very striking when you think about it.

But then I realized: that’s what Jesus does all the time.
That’s what it means to be a saint: someone Jesus can point to and say:
Here is how it works. This is what holiness looks like.

And as I thought about John the Baptist, a book came to mind.
You’ve heard of it: The Lord of the Rings.
Maybe you’ve read it; but if you haven’t, 
It’s about a particular ring that is immensely powerful,
and therefore involves great temptation for all concerned.

And it’s about certain people who must undertake 
a journey and a task of the greatest peril. 
Everything depends on their courage and self-sacrifice 
and their perseverance.

Time after time, the right thing to do seems to be madness,
Because it means saying no to pride and power and ego.
And in case the point is not obvious:
This, too, it what it means to be a saint.
In God’s Providence, anything is possible; but generally speaking, 
the path of a saint is one of plodding along faithfully.

John the Baptist was the last in a long line of faithful witnesses.
From Noah and Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, 
Moses and Joshua, some – but not enough – of the kings;
Ezra and Nehemiah; Samuel and all the prophets and many more.
Each one was a link in a long chain, and the last witness was John,
Who said not, the Messiah will come someday, but rather:
Here is right now: Behold the Lamb of God!

So often you and I feel that we don’t count very much.
And on a planet of seven billion souls, and in the long march of history,
Maybe it’s true: you and I are just one brief blip.
Who will remember us?

Jesus! Jesus will remember you and me.

John the Baptist really only had one task: be faithful. That was it!
And of course, that’s my task and yours, too.

John’s question to Jesus is a little startling. Was he wavering?
He has been faithful, and now he is in prison, 
and maybe he wonders if it was all a colossal mistake?

And Jesus sends a message. In short: hang in there, John!
Don’t give up. You weren’t wrong. 

If you get discouraged, Jesus has the same word for you.
You aren’t wrong to be faithful.
And if you need some company, invite Jesus along.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Anchor your hope in heaven (Sunday homily)

In the second reading, St. Paul spoke about hope.
Elsewhere in this same letter, Paul explained that 
the gaze of hope is fixed on that which lies ahead--
it isn’t something you already have.
Hope looks forward.

But then the question comes to mind:
just what do we fix our hope on?
Is it really true that heaven is what we are hoping for?

A few years ago, I saw a survey about the British people,
that something like a quarter of them say,
well, there might be a God,
but they don’t think they can know anything about God for sure.

What that means is that if we have some hope of good after this life,
it ends up being pretty vague.  

In the meantime, what we see around us,
what we can obtain here, all that is pretty definite.
How can we help doing that? 
I don’t really what heaven, or God, or eternity, looks like. Do you?
So it’s very difficult to have any concrete ideas.
Meanwhile, you and I know exactly what dinner looks like. 

The danger is that we become people without hope--
because instead of having our focus on what lies ahead,
we focus on what this life offers – and what’s left to hope for?

Pope Francis, in the letter he wrote a few years ago,
called the “Joy of the Gospel,”
talks about the “great danger in today’s world,
pervaded as it is by consumerism,”
is that we end up with a “complacent yet covetous heart”;

Where our “interior life becomes caught up
in its own interests and concerns,” and there’s no room left;
And we can’t hear God speak to us.

This is where the strange practice of celibacy fits in.
Lots of people simply don’t get it. 
Why should brothers and sisters and priests remain celibate?
The answer is that it is a sign of what we hope for.

If you’re on your way to a once-in-a-lifetime dinner,
Would you stop to eat on the way? Of course not.
So when people see us priests and religious 
passing up something great – which marriage is – 
then it points to the something greater still
we must be looking forward to.

Celibacy means casting our anchor all the way to heaven.
Not everyone is called to celibacy; 
but every Christian, in his or her own way, 
is called to give some sign of that same hope – 
that our hope lies ahead, not here.

That’s what you and I do when we obey God’s law; 
when we embrace penance; when we reject worry;
when you and I care for the poor, expecting nothing back;
and when we choose forgiveness and reconciliation over vengeance.
Those are ways we tell the world: 
You and I are looking forward to something better.

And, speaking of our religious sisters, 
remember them in the second collection today; 
this is for their retirement fund, which needs bolstering. 

Many here were taught by nuns, 
including in Russia School at one time!
This is a way we can repay them.

One more point about hope.
It seems to me that if we are looking for something,
It’s a lot harder if we have no idea what it looks like.

If someone told you there was a mineral  
in the ground around here that’s very valuable,
and if you wanted to start collecting it, 
what would be the first thing you’d do?

Wouldn’t you find out everything you could about this stuff,
what it was like, and how to get it?

Well, there’s a place called heaven 
and Jesus is our only way to get there. 
So our first step is kind of obvious, isn’t it?

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Is Jesus coming? He is here now! (Sunday homily)

In the first reading we hear a prophecy of Isaiah: 
all nations shall stream toward “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” 
And perhaps you’re wondering to what that refers.

Well, let’s figure it out.

It refers to the “Lord’s House” – that means the temple,
In Jerusalem, built on Mount Zion.
That of course is where Jesus gathered with his Apostles 
on the night before he died; and the next day, he completed his “Mass” 
with his suffering and death on the Cross.

So if you’re wondering how that prophecy is to be fulfilled: 
the answer is in the Holy Mass – what we are doing right now!

Isaiah said that the Word of the Lord would go forth from Zion – 
and it did, especially after the Day of Pentecost;
And that all the nations would stream to the Lord’s House –
And that, too, has happened; 
the Holy Mass is offered throughout the world, 
in every language and nation and tongue, 
even when it is very risky for people to take part.

So it is wonderful to consider that this passage has been, 
and is being, fulfilled, even as we gather here for Holy Mass!

The emphasis in the Gospel – and in Advent generally –
is on watchfulness for the coming of Jesus.
In a word, Advent is about eternity.
You might say, but I thought it is about Christmas?
But you see, Christmas, too, is about eternity, about heaven,
Because with Christmas, heaven bursts forth on earth,
And we begin to see heaven among us.

So when you and I talk about Jesus’ coming,
It’s not as if he’s now absent from the world. 
People will say, “he’s coming back – as if, he’s not here.
I think the reason many people talk that way
Is because they don’t realize Jesus is here, right now:
He never left!

They don’t know what the sacraments are:
That the Holy Spirit enters us in baptism and confirmation;
That Jesus stands with us, in suffering and pain, 
in the anointing of the sick; 
that marriage makes real, in a flesh-and-blood way, 
the love of Jesus for his people.

People don’t realize that Christ truly acts through the priesthood;
And they simply don’t know the truth of what the Holy Mass is, 
Of what the Eucharist is: Jesus is here!

It’s really easy for us as Catholics to take all this for granted;
But we must not! These are astounding gifts! Jesus is with us!

So our task as Catholics isn’t to talk about Jesus coming as if he isn't here now – 
because he is here now! – but rather, Jesus coming to reign reigning.* 
He is king now, yet he is among us with the greatest patience.
He has the right to command, and yet he continues to invite.

There will come a time when he will take his throne at last,
And the time for his people to hear, and repent, and receive him,
Will finally come to an end. 

This is our opportunity: to get our own hearts and lives ready.
The witness of our own readiness – our own seriousness and urgency – 
is what will help others to wake up and get serious, too.

I think of the whole issue of global warming and climate change.
Whatever you think about that subject, consider this:
We have movie stars and celebrities who talk about how urgent it is, 
and everyone should live simply – but what do they do?
They live like kings and fly all over the world on private jets.
They aren’t very convincing witnesses.

Well: we have lots of people around us who don’t take Jesus seriously.
They don’t know that Jesus is here, now.
Well: are you and I convincing witnesses?

* I made these changes at all Masses for clarity.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Houston Brewery goes all in for Satan

This is pretty stunning. According to LifeSite News, there was a "Black Mass" in Houston last Saturday evening. I have been pretty busy lately, so I was only vaguely aware of this story last week. But today I was scanning Facebook and I saw something posted from the "Satanic Temple" in Houston bragging about desecrating the Blessed Sacrament -- and here is the part that caught my eye -- the event was "hosted" by Brash Brewing Company.

Of course all this business is repulsive on so many levels. But I'm going to save my commentary for a moment while I unravel this a bit. What interested me was the involvement of the business. Was the brewery unaware of this? How had they reacted to being involved in this.

And this what stuns me: Brash Brewing seems to have been perfectly fine with it, and fine with treating Jesus and those who believe in him with contempt. How do I know? I went to their Facebook page and read their posts for myself.

PAUSE AND READ CAREFULLY: If you visit their site, please do not be obnoxious or offensive. Why would you do such a thing? I'm not sure that any comments at all will be helpful, but I can't fault you if you want to ask questions or offer kind words. But don't be a jerk, please? That's not why I am writing this; and as you'll see right away, it just confirms what the folks there seem to think about all Christians.

So here are some of the things I thought about this:

- I am truly horrified that any business (really, anyone, anywhere) would welcome a Satanic ritual into its facilities. I suppose if you are absolutely convinced there is nothing supernatural, you might think it's all a joke. But if you do believe in the supernatural, wouldn't you wonder about what sort of forces you're inviting in with such activities?

- And then there's this: why in the world would you want to go out of your way to offend a significant portion of your possible customer base? Catholics most of all, but surely a lot of other people are likely to be offended; and not a few people simply uncomfortable.

- Although I'm not expecting to be in Houston anytime soon, if I am ever there, I can tell you I won't go near that place. No, not because I "hate" them as some of the juvenile comments on their Facebook page describe the reactions of Catholics. I certainly don't hate them; if I did, the most hateful thing I could do, as a Catholic, would be to consign them to hell. On the contrary, I am deeply concerned for their welfare, both in this life and the next; and I would have no problem telling the folks that in person if the opportunity arose. Plus, I like beer, and it might be I would have enjoyed their beer.

But no way I'm even entering a building that has, more or less, been dedicated to Satan. Even as a priest -- indeed, you might say, precisely because I am a priest -- I would not go into such an encounter rashly. There are priests who are properly delegated to deal with such things and I am not one of them. If there were some true necessity? That's different. But without any lack of charity toward the folks who own that business: there's no way I'd put myself in that situation. That's not a "boycott"; that's just prudence.

- It's really hard to understand the thought process that leads to aligning yourself with a Black Mass in this way, unless you are a Satanist, or there is some serious hatred at work. Why? Because the key to a Black Mass is precisely about attacking and denigrating Jesus and the Holy Eucharist. Even if you believe the Holy Mass is nothing but a ritual, and the Eucharist is nothing but bread, then why would you go out of your way to mock it? It seems to me you do this, either because you believe there's something real here -- and you want to attack that reality; or else you want to express contempt and cause deliberate offense to those who believe in it.

- So it sure seems like Brash Brewing has adopted this position: "We hate you Catholics." If you dispute my characterization, I would invite you to look over the Facebook page and see what I saw: lots of pretty anti-Catholic tropes and images; also the company proudly has a "Black Mass" beer; and it is offering some cups with Satanic symbols. And if Brash Brewing wants to come back and dispute my characterization, then all I can say is, you chose to offend Catholics -- of all stripes -- in the most blatant way possible. Even those Catholics who agree with Brash Brewery's various political and ideological views on abortion and marriage aren't going to feel a lot of love from a "Black Mass."

- Meanwhile, I noticed some of the comments on Brash Brewing's Facebook play coy: well, how do you know it was a consecrated host? Of course, I don't. Of course, I hope it wasn't. But those who organized the event said it was. Are they lying? Even so, it's still a deliberate offense -- and if it was a consecrated host, it also means someone likely committed what may not be prosecuted as a crime, but morally is one: going into a place of worship and stealing a sacred object from that place of worship under false pretenses. Put this in the context of any non-Christian religion, and the matter would be crystal-clear to everyone.

- In the course of reading about this, there are a couple of things I noticed about those who defended this Black Mass or who dismissed the concerns about it. There was a lot of pain and anger, along the lines of, you hurt me so we'll hurt you back. Also, I couldn't help getting the sense that for some people, it's all just a joke. Not just the Black Mass; everything.

- My last thought is this: is this just a weird aberration, or is this a sign of things to come? It's bad enough to see so many businesses get on board the "gay marriage" train and the "transgender" train; but so far, I think such decisions are being made in the misguided belief that only a few eccentrics will be offended. (And, in a sense, they may have calculated correctly: large numbers of Christians who ought to be offended, aren't; and lots more feel powerless.) But this is, as I said, a deliberate offense. Are more businesses really going to go down that road?

In a way, this doesn't surprise me. Back when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell decision imposing a radical redefinition of marriage on the entire country, I predicted that we would come to a point where to deem homosexual behavior immoral, and to oppose redefining marriage, would not merely be a point of disagreement, but would make you evil -- in the same category as the KKK. The comments on Brash Brewing's page -- not necessarily by the company -- take that view.

Still, it's hard to see how this wasn't a catastrophic business decision.

I really don't wish these folks any ill. My preferred outcome would be that the perpetrators of this offense would have a change of heart and apologize; and that those who were offended would generously forgive. How wonderful if they invited the bishop to send someone to exorcise the building. But barring such an outcome, I must say candidly that I will be interested to see what becomes of this business. Will it pay a price for such a bizarre course of action, or will it be rewarded?

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ is King everywhere. Make him King in your life (Sunday homily)

Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.
The title may seem grandiose, but it makes the point:
Jesus is king of everything, everyone, everywhere: no limits!

This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
It was a time of “isms” – that is, causes demanding total allegiance, 
and seeking a total reordering of society:
Fascism, communism, socialism and Nazism among them.

Alas, we have new “isms” being added to the old ones.
Caring for the environment is a good and necessary thing, 
but for some it becomes a kind of religion, worshipping Nature
while human beings are treated as the enemy.

For others, the object of worship is the self; our own will.
So all the confusion today about sex 
and man and woman and marriage and identity? 
That’s us saying to God: MY will be done, not yours!

In the end, it’s all variations on the same theme:
People who will not have God as God; they want to be their own god.

This feast is when you and I as Christians must bear witness:
Without God, humanity loses himself. 

There is a second point to make on this feast, and it is this:
Bearing this witness means helping to reflect Christ and his Truth 
in our society and yes in our laws.

Yes, we live in a pluralistic society, and we have religious freedom.
But that doesn’t silence our own voices or our votes;
That doesn’t mean our consciences must be locked away!

It does mean, however, that you and I must reach out to our neighbors, 
who don’t share our faith, but who may share common values.
You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian to value human life,
To know that men are made for women and vice-versa,
And to see that the family is the foundation of human society.

Let me make a third point that isn’t about larger forces in society, 
or about a future that you and I can only glimpse darkly.
This is about something each of us can do, here and now, 
to make Christ king in our own lives, and show him as such to others.

When the weather is calm, a fence can be put up pretty loosely;
it doesn’t need much to stay standing. 
But when the winds start raging, 
that fence will be knocked flat, fast,
if it isn’t dug deep and well anchored.

That’s what we are facing today as Christians:
Headwinds that are becoming more ferocious daily.
That means the time is now to strengthen our foundation, dig it deep.

This is why Sunday Mass matters. 
It’s our weekly reminder of who we really are: citizens of heaven.
And when our culture is forgetting God more and more,
It’s all the more necessary to make a conscious effort to remember.
To be all the more deliberate and focused.
As a priest, I will readily admit Mass can become routine – 
Am I the only one? I suspect not.
Each time we come into this church, we enter King Jesus’ presence!
Each Mass, we witness the renewal of our salvation!

When you and I take advantage of confession,
That is the most powerful tool for re-ordering our lives 
so that Christ is at the center, 
not work, not sports, not ego, not pleasure.
The tug-of-war is always there for everyone one of us.

Our reading project for Advent and Christmas – 
reading our way through the Gospel of Matthew – is a great tool.
The brown books are the Gospel of Matthew itself;
The white folders are study guides if you want it.
The cards in the pews are so you can sign up for a discussion group.

At the end of this Mass, as we do every year,
We will pray together a prayer enthroning Jesus as our king.
How about we pray for each other that what we say in that prayer, 
each of us can find ways to make happen 
in our daily lives for the coming year?

Individually, and as a parish, you and I can be part of larger efforts
to make a difference in society;
In our own lives, in our daily choices,
you and I can enthrone Jesus more and more as King.
We don’t have to wait to get started.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Turkey Dinner for the Over-70s

Every month in Russia St. Remy hosts a luncheon for our over-70 members of the community. Last month at my suggestion we had Oktoberfest (but no beer!), with brats and metts and saurkraut. This month, we had an early Thanksgiving, which was my fault. It started last month with me recalling how, when I was a kid, the school cafeteria would have turkey and dressing a few days before Thanksgiving, and before you know it, I'd talked myself into preparing a turkey for everyone. The plan was that I would make a turkey and stuff it, and make gravy; the staffmember who organizes these lunches would organize the rest.

Well, the turkey was a smash hit; probably the best I've ever made. There were many comments, so I'll publish here what I did. Very little is original; I have no shame in using recipes of others. In this case, I started with a fresh turkey from Kuck Turkey Farm up the road in New Knoxville; expecting a good crowd and not wanting to run out, I ordered a 32-pound bird. As soon as I got it home last Thursday, I brined it using Martha Stewart's recipe. This really is the key. At Martha's suggestion, I brined it for 24 hours; earlier I was thinking another 12 hours or so would have been a good idea.

I should also acknowledge that I modified Martha's recipe: I didn't find juniper berries nearby so I threw in a good slug of Tanqueray Gin; the whole garlic I had on hand was pretty dessicated, so instead I used a combination of garlic paste and powder from what I had on hand. Finally, she called for a bunch of fresh thyme; Krogers didn't have that (it usually does), but it did have a package of thyme mixed with rosemary and sage, so I figured that would have to do. Martha also suggests turning the bird over half-way through, which I thought ludicrous given the size of the turkey; instead, I just stirred the thing around. Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I almost forgot the fresh herbs, and so didn't include them at the very beginning, but tossed them in an hour later. I say all that to say, had I followed the recipe precisely, I'm sure it would have been even better.

Thankfully it was cold enough to keep the bird in its bath outside; I put it in my garage and used a couple of packages of Coke Zero to weigh down the lid. At first I worried about it freezing, but then remembered it had lots of salt in the brine, so rested easily.

After the turkey came out of the brine, I put it in a baking pan and set it, naked, in the fridge. After soaking it, I was now drying it out -- that is, the skin. As good as brining is overall, it does work against the interest of crispy skin; so this drying process helps. The turkey sat in the fridge for two days before being put in the oven last night around 7:30 pm. I rubbed it all over with olive oil and sprinkled it generously with cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Several times I basted it with melted butter.

I cooked it for about 14 hours; but because I didn't trust my timing, so after starting it at 350 degrees for an hour or so, I turned it down to about 270, and then lowered it to 170 overnight. I didn't want it to overcook while I snoozed. At six A.M., it was almost to the temperature I wanted; I cranked up the temp to around 220, and checked it again after Mass; it was ready.

My original desire was to stuff it, but cooking it long and slow made that risky. Also, to keep the breast meat juicy, I like to cook a bird breast-side down, and then for the last few hours flip it breast-side up. But I realized flipping this 32-lb monster was a ludicrous idea so I cooked it breast up from the beginning, covering the breast with some foil until this morning.

Since the meal was at a building a short distance away, I had to figure out how to get it there without problems. One of my staff -- who helped me get the bird out of the oven -- suggested a cooler, which I put in the back of my car, and drove very slowly to the site of the meal.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about the stuffing dressing. I had a recipe for Southern-style cornbread dressing that I'd used before, but I couldn't find it, so I opted for this one.

Some readers may know that there is a kind of tug-of-war about this particular dish: should it be drier or wetter; and should it ever be stuffed in the bird, or prepared as a casserole (i.e., dressing)? I like the cornbread, but I also like it a little drier, and I like it in the bird if possible. This recipe worked well, and I actually followed it pretty closely. I had some Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic I hadn't opened, so I used that, and I added a little more celery. I also added the optional sausage. I omitted the gravy, opting for a drier. Several days earlier I bought some days-old bread, and made some Jiffy cornpone, both of which I staled in my cut up into cubes and staled in my kitchen.

I prepped everything for the "stuffing" last night, putting it all together with the wet ingredients this morning after Mass. While the never-stuffed stuffing was baking, I fixed the gravy. I took the pan drippings -- half of which I poured into the stuffing dressing to make up for it not having actually been in the bird -- and added some turkey stock. I made a roux with flour and some fat I skimmed off the drippings and added that back into the liquid, and simmered that. It tasted pretty good, but I think it would have been better on the heat a mite longer.

As I said, I think this was my best turkey and the dressing was very good. Best of all? Leftovers and a carcass I can use to make stock!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Judgment Day -- and how not to be worried about it (Sunday homily)

If this Gospel reading scares you…
If you are worried about Judgment Day…
Then come to confession!

When you make regular use of the sacrament of confession,
you will have nothing to worry about on Judgment Day.

If you aren’t sure you know Jesus very well,
that is the easiest thing to fix.
Jesus already knows you better than you know yourself;
And he wants you and me to know him, to be close to him.
Jesus invites each of us 
to the best and deepest friendship we will ever have.

How do we become friends with Jesus?

One way is to read his own words.
For Advent this year, we have a copy of 
the Gospel of Matthew available to all parishioners.
That is this brown book, and it’s in the vestibule right now.
It is the very text of the Gospel, along with excellent notes.

Of course, you might want a little more help with it,
So that’s why we have these white folders;
Inside is a easy-to-use study guide to walk you through.
This is from Scott Hahn, who is always solid.

And, for those who would like it, 
we are organizing some study groups 
that will meet for several weeks, 
so you can discuss this and sort it out with others.

And if you want to take advantage of that, 
fill out and return this card which is in the pews.
Only when we hear back from you 
that you want to be part of a study group, 
will our staff be able to match you up – 
so don’t delay turning in that card, please.

Some people would rather listen than read; 
So we have that option as well. 
In the brown books are cards 
that explain how you can go online to 
and listen to Matthew’s Gospel and the other information., by the way, is FREE and a great resource 
for lots and lots and lots of Catholic information.
Lots and lots! And did I mention it’s FREE?

Why Matthew? Because during 2020, 
that’s the Gospel we’ll hear at Mass nearly every Sunday.
In the Gospel today, Jesus said: 
“I myself will give you a wisdom” that others cannot refute.
His own words are surely that wisdom.

Just to review, you have four options!

1. Just read Matthew’s Gospel by itself. 
That’s the brown book.

2. Take advantage of Scott Hahn’s Study Guide.
That’s the white folder.

3. Be part of a group study. 
Turn in this card in the pew to sign up for that.

4. Listen for free to these materials online.
That’s on, and how to access it 
is on the card in the book.

To return to my main theme: Jesus wants to be friends.
Knowing his own words obviously helps.

But there’s no substitute for simply talking with Jesus.
If you have a good friend, you talk to your friend; 
you spend time together. You open your hearts.

Jesus warned us that times would get bad 
and everything would fall apart. 
I’m not looking forward to that; but if it happens, 
I want to be by Jesus’ side when it happens. Don’t you?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

'There are only two possibilities...' (Sunday homily)

Click on image to go to site from which I "borrowed" this.

The first reading shows us incredible courage on the part of 
seven brothers on trial for their fidelity to the Lord God. 
But don’t miss one key ingredient in their fortitude: 
they are supremely confident of the Resurrection. 

They know they, and their persecutors, will face a Judgment Day, 
and they are certain God will give them 
a share in the Resurrection to Life.

Somewhere recently I saw someone ask this question: 
Can you name three things for which 
you would be willing to give your life? 
How many of us know the answer to that question? 
And is our Catholic Faith one of them?

Of course, it makes all the difference whether or not
you believe that there is life after this one; 
that you and I will get our bodies back, and – 
if we place our faith in Jesus Christ and cooperate with his grace
and live as he teaches us, repenting of our sins
– we will have a share in the Resurrection to Life.

That changes everything. There are only two possibilities: 
either this is all we get, and therefore, when we die, that’s the end; 
or, this is a prelude to something more. 

And all of us live according to one belief-system or the other, 
even if we don’t think about it very much. 

So, you can say, “Oh, I’m not very religious” or, 
“I don’t have time to work all that out”;
But in any case, how you live day-by-day tells the true story.
Is this world my true home? Or am I just passing through?

So that brings us to our annual celebration 
of Forty Hours of adoration of Jesus on the altar. 

We began our time of exposition 
of the Most Holy Eucharist Friday morning, 
and it will continue till 9 pm on Saturday, 
and conclude at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon. 

This devotion began in the 1500s 
with the blessing of Pope Paul III, with the purpose of 
“appeas[ing] the anger of God provoked by the offences of Christians,” 
and to seek God’s help against those 
“pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom…” 

That sounds about right! 
Boy are there a lot of offenses by Christians before God,
while our foes press hard on every side.

The anchor of our hope is Jesus Christ, and his Resurrection. 
Once again, the choice is binary. Either he really lived, or it’s all a fake. 
Either he really rose from the dead, or it’s all a lie. 
Jesus said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood”: 
those are HIS words, and so either he truly gives us 
his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – 
and therefore, the Eucharist is our Lord Jesus, our Lord God! – 
Or else it’s all nothing. 

You and must decide: what do we believe? What do we live for?
It gets harder to be a faithful Christian every day. 
We think we’re isolated and protected in Russia, 
and we are to some extent, but don’t kid yourself.

The ground is shifting under our feet even as we speak. 
Sooner or later, each one of us will face a moment 
when we must take a stand; 
it will probably be a small thing, at our place of work, 
or at a party with friends, or a family situation;
hardly a life-or-death situation. 

Yet in that moment, we will face a cost, a consequence, 
perhaps a lost business deal or a better job;
maybe embarrassment, or ridicule, 
if we stand up for the Catholic Faith.
And the thing is, it’s not just once, but over and over.
Either we learn the habit of cheerfully paying the price; 
or we learn the habit of shrinking back, again and again.

And the only solid ground, the only thing that is secure, is Jesus Christ. 
Forty Hours and this Mass, right now, are a good time 
to ask yourself what you believe, and what price you will pay for it. 
And further: ask Him, ask Jesus, to strengthen you.
Hear him say to you what he said to Peter: “Be not afraid!”

One day all this world will melt away, and either there we be nothing;
Or there will be Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Senor Jesus SI! Pachamama? Al infierno con eso!

Here are my summary reactions to the “Amazon Synod,” which appeared in the parish's bulletin last week:

Recently Pope Francis concluded a special meeting in Rome with selected bishops from around the world, as well as selected representatives from the Amazon region of South America. Even though the focus of the gathering was supposed to be on local issues, the event was held, not in South America, but in the “capital” of the Catholic Church, that is, Rome. Presumably Pope Francis wanted to make this as high profile as possible.

What did it do?

Mainly a lot of talking and more talking, culminating in a series of recommendations, which Pope Francis himself will evaluate and respond to. He has no obligation to do anything with the recommendations, but insofar as he promotes this process, it seems likely he will want to advance at least some of the synod’s proposals.

Nevertheless, there were three things that came out of the synod that deeply concern me. I will summarize them this week, and say more in a future column. While the synod had some good things to say about caring for the environment and respecting diverse peoples, especially those who are poor and powerless, it advocated two changes I think would be harmful: allowing married men to be ordained as priests, and creating female deacons of some sort.

What in the world is a 'pachamama'? 

Meanwhile, some people showed up with carved wooden figures of a naked, pregnant woman, and these were paraded around and finally brought into several of the churches. At one point, someone absurdly claimed it was meant to be an image of our Lady; others said it didn’t mean anything at all (so why parade around with something meaningless?). But with further research, it seems clear it was a non-Christian (i.e., pagan) symbol representing “Mother Earth,” which the Incas – and perhaps people today, pray to. This last is the key fact: in traditional religions of the region, people pray to Pachamama. Let that sink in!

How did this happen?

The most charitable explanation I can offer is that the people in Rome were clueless and didn’t want to be overbearing, but rather be “inclusive” and welcoming. Then, when controversy blew up, they circled the wagons as so often happens. Those preparing for this event ought to have headed this off, and such a symbol – regardless of intentions – ought not to have been displayed in a place of Christian worship! Of course, you’re thinking, how could Pope Francis let this happen? Remember, we believe God will prevent the pope from teaching error; that doesn’t mean he won’t ever make a bad decision, or fail to make a good one when needed.

No doubt, many in this country think, “big deal!” But remember, for centuries, certain Protestant sects have accused us Catholics of worshiping idols. In Latin America, such sects are converting ill-catechized Catholics by the hundreds of thousands. What a bonanza this will be for them! Meanwhile, a frequent Muslim claim is that Christians worship multiple gods. Imagine what besieged Christians in many Muslim-majority countries will have to face as a result of this episode.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Seek out more Zacchaeuses to win (Sunday homily)

This man, Zacchaeus, was someone everyone would have hated. 
He was a tax-collector for the Roman oppressors.
That also meant he was feared, 
because a word from him could bring you big trouble.

And this is who Jesus chooses to be friends with?

This reminds me of a great movie called “The Scarlet and the Black,” 
about a Catholic priest, Monsignor O’Flaherty, 
in Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II.
At great risk, the priest finds ways to save Jews from the Nazis.
The villain, Colonel Kappler, was responsible for many deaths,
and if he’d had his way, that would have included Father O’Flaherty.

But then things turn, and now the Nazi comes and begs the priest 
to help his family escape. At first, the Monsignor refuses; 
but then his heart softens, and he rescues his enemy’s family.

Kappler goes to prison for his many brutal crimes.
Every month one person visited him. It was Father O’Flaherty.
After 14 years, Kappler was baptized!

Jesus’ friendship with Zacchaeus had instant results;
But more often, it takes great patience, as with Kappler.

When you and I show kindness and mercy like this,
We will be criticized and mocked as na├»ve; 
and many times, it won’t seem to have done any good at all.

But one day you and I will stand before Jesus.
He will not mock us. We will not be embarrassed on that day!
Imagine being Monsignor O’Flaherty, appearing before Jesus, 
and saying, “Here, I brought my own Zacchaeus:
my friend, Colonel Kappler!”

Do you think he will regret that he was generous, 
that he persevered, all those years, in showing kindness and friendship?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Heaven is full; we need to be (All Saints homily)

A few years ago, there was a book and a movie 
about a boy who died for several hours 
and when he came back to life, he said he’d been in heaven. 
It’s not the only book that’s been written about heaven. 
A lot of us wonder: what might heaven be like?

Well, let’s look at what the Scriptures we heard have to say.

First, Heaven will be full of people. 
“A great multitude, which no one could count, 
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
That is hopeful!

Second, Heaven is full of holiness – and, therefore, joy.

The psalm we prayed tells us, to be in heaven is to have 
Hands that are sinless and a clean heart.
To be in heaven is to be pure, “as God is pure.”

How is this possible? 

We think of sin as something we have: 
we have greed, we have wrath, 
we have lust, we have bad habits.

But it would be truer to understand sin as being about what we lack. 
We lack the fullness of purity; of peace; of contentment; of truth.
We lack the fullness, finally, of God. 

Sin happens in our lives not because of what we have, 
but because of what we think we don’t have. 
Isn’t that what envy is? 
If I like my house, my car, my life – 
I have no reason to envy my neighbor.

Anger becomes sinful when we are not content 
to let someone else be the judge of things; 
and, ultimately, the final judge is God. 
The sin of wrath comes in when we don’t think 
God is doing a good job as the final judge of things. 

Heaven is free of sin, precisely because it’s full of God.
Which leads to my third point:

Just because heaven is full, don’t assume heaven is easy.

The standard way of thinking today 
is that pretty much everyone goes to heaven. 
Only really bad people, like Stalin and Hitler, go to hell.

Well, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said a lot about hell. 
He kept warning people about how likely it was they would go there.

If heaven were more or less automatic – 
the way lots of people think – 
there would be no point for the Bible 
to be more than five or ten pages long.
We wouldn’t need ten commandments, only one:
“Thou shalt not be really mean – like Hitler.”

And, more than that, Jesus would never have died on the cross.
Remember, he agonized about it the night before.
If heaven was easy, he could have told his Father:
“It’s not like they need this, Father – 
they’re all coming to heaven anyway.”

It is critical for each of us to understand – 
is that we will make it to heaven 
only because we surrender ourselves to the grace of God.

We profess that Mary, the Mother of God, is “full of grace”—
which is the same thing as saying, she is without sin.

But here’s the part we miss: what Mary received early, 
every one of us is destined to receive.
Every one of us is destined to be full of grace.

In other words, every single one of us is meant to be a saint.

Let me make the point even more strongly.

If you and I don’t make as saints?
Then we will be in hell.

There is no middle option.
No, not Purgatory. Purgatory isn’t a destination; 
it’s the last stop before heaven. 
And everyone who makes to Purgatory will be a saint.
Purgatory is the finishing school for saints.

So, unless you want to go to hell – 
and I don’t know anyone who really wants that – 
then you and I had better get serious about being saints.
Heaven will be full of joy – and as saints in heaven, 
We will be full of joy – because we will be full 
of the presence and knowledge, 
the love and the life, of Jesus Christ.

You and I – along with countless others – 
will be those saints, whose lives are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Project 88 Complete!

Last week -- October 13-15 -- I visited the final four counties and thus completed my personal project of visiting all 88 counties in Ohio. Here is the report of this last outing.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed off for my tour of Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll Counties. First stop: Summit County, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. My original ambition was to ride a scenic railroad that makes trips through the park each weekend; but in October, the late-afternoon trip drops off the schedule; I couldn't get there for the earlier trip.

Along the way, I stopped in Boston Township, where I snapped these pictures:

The plaque above was in front of the building below:

Across the way is the G.A.R. Hall. "G.A.R." stands for the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a pretty prominent organization at one time in American society, but now gone with the wind.

The GAR Hall seems to have found a new life as a concert venue...

Looks nice!

When I got to the park, I looked for the visitor's center. I saw a building labeled "Visitor's Center," but parking was a little distant. I walked over, only to find this sign:

So then I went back to the old center, only to arrive 3 minutes after closing.

I went and got dinner, and then to my hotel, where I found this. What do you make of it?

The next morning I drove around the park. By the way, I only discovered at this point that much of the park is actually in Cuyahoga County, but some in Summit. There are lots of trails for hiking and biking. Since a lot of my tour was by car, not so many pictures. Here are two:

Here's some history of Brandywine Falls, including a village now all but vanished:

After this, I drove down to Akron, the county seat of Summit, coming into town along Riverview/Merriman Road, through a lovely part of town. I passed this building with a for sale sign outside the Temple Israel, which relocated in 2014:

Once downtown, I chanced upon St. Bernard Church. I didn't get a photo of the outside, but it is huge. When I got inside, all I could say was "wow!" Several times.

 The free-standing altar is unfortunate, but perhaps someday it will be removed. The bench on which the priest sits has absurdly been turned to face the people; it ought to face the altar. But overall, I was thrilled that very little damage was done to this church, or else has been undone.

What do you make of this? Was the altar rail always arranged this way?

This window is rather unusual. All the figures have a flame over their heads, which I take to refer to Pentecost. The Lord Jesus is not in the scene, but Mary is. If you count the figures, it adds up, if I recall correctly, to 14, which leads me to think they put Paul in, except he wasn't there. Let me know if you have a theory or more information.

This Baptistry impressed me because of its size, and its seating.

From here I headed down to Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I spent about 2 hours there, but didn't take a huge number of photos. Here are some:

The Hall of Fame is just one part of a large and growing complex. Inside I saw plans for a $1 Billion' worth of construction.

Visiting the hall of fame is rather humbling for Bengals fans, as only only four people associated with the team are there, and only one whose work was primarily with the Bengals: Anthony Munoz of course. There is plenty to see, and its enjoyable and informative, but there is definitely a weird vibe about the place, as the mural above might suggest: it's almost a kind of religious shrine.

After the hall of fame, my goal was to visit the last two counties that day, so I could celebrate my project that evening; the next day I would take in any additional sights as desired on the way home. I dipped down into Carroll County, so I could legitimately count it, but with plans to return to see more the next day. I passed through Minerva, but sorry, no pictures!

I was charmed by this little Methodist church, somewhere between Canton and Robertsville, but I can't read the sign out front. Can you?

This is a post office. Again, I can't make out the sign.

This is a marker near West Point, Ohio, in Columbiana County, where Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's daring raid through Indiana and Ohio came to an end.

The is the Grange building in Robertson, Ohio. Never heard of The Grange? It's a farmers' organization, organized somewhat along the lines of the Freemasons, although I don't know how true that still is. Grange buildings can be found all over the country.

This is St. Agatha Church in West Point.

Eventually, I made my way to the mighty Ohio, which forms not only the southern, but a substantial part of the eastern, border of the state. This is East Liverpool, which -- you will discover, as I did -- has a plethora of historical markers:

Not many yards further up river from this point, the Ohio emerges from Pennsylvania:

One of the many libraries built coast to coast by Andrew Carnegie:

A marker right near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, indicating where...well, read it for yourself:

After this, I headed to Salem, Ohio, in northwest Columbiana County, for the night. There weren't many options for hotels and restaurants in this county, but Salem seemed to have more options, so I headed there. When I went online, I was intrigued by "The Stables Inn" and headed there. It turned out to be a 1959 hotel that had closed ten years before, which some local investors had reopened and were trying to make go. It certainly has promise. The restaurant was nice, but the ribs I had weren't as good as I hoped. I'd certainly give it another try.

Alas, I got no other pictures in Salem but this house with unusual chimneys. Have you seen anything like this before?

After a enjoyable dinner at "Boneshakers," the restaurant in the hotel, and sleeping late, I got up for a little more visiting in Carroll County, and then the long drive home. My route was along State Route 9, from Salem to Carrollton, the county seat of Carroll County. My first job was to hunt down some breakfast, I think I ended up at McDonalds. Then I needed gasoline, which I got in Carrollton. I looked around the town, but honestly, I was ready to head home. Here's what I saw took pictures of on the way back:

And now, my trek is finished! What project should I tackle next?