Friday, May 31, 2019

Brother priests: why aren't you hearing more confessions?

This is a post especially for my brother priests.

I've been a priest sixteen years, and as the years go by, I find myself spending more time in confession -- not so much as a penitent, I mean, but as a confessor. At Saint Remy, we have about six hours of confession every week. On top of that, we have lots of extra times for confession, for our schoolkids, in the weeks before Christmas, and in Lent, and some other extras all year long.

People always say, oh that's a lot! And it is, by comparison with most parishes (although we don't stand out so much in this area; see below*). Even then, I am not convinced it's enough, really, but maybe it's close.

Here's what I don't get: having one -- and only one -- hour a week for confessions. Or even less. Unless you're an extremely small parish, how does this get the job done?

* For what it's worth, here's the situation locally. I went to and looked up confessions in my area. Sunday: two parishes nearby have confessions (including mine). Monday: one parish, 16 miles away. Tuesday: four parishes nearby. Wednesday: three parishes, plus mine. Thursday: eight parishes, plus mine. Friday: two parishes. Saturday: a whole bunch, as you might expect. Without doing a detailed analysis, it looks to me that most parishes around here -- or "clusters," where multiple parishes share one or more priests -- have about two hours on average.

Now let's look at nearby Dayton, where we have some really big parishes.

Without naming the parishes, here's what I found:

- A lot of small to medium size parishes with an hour or two. Certainly some with more.
- Several really big ones, with an hour or less.

Now, to be fair, the information at could be incorrect. However, when I clicked through on a couple of parish websites -- those with minimal confession times -- the information was confirmed.

If you ask me to name the parishes, I won't. I know the priests at these parishes, and they don't necessarily fit the stereotypes people are always ready to provide. This isn't about "liberal" or "conservative," or even a generational thing. My purpose isn't to make anyone out to be a bad guy, just to ask: do you really think this is enough?

Think of it this way:

1. Do you really think the state of the Catholic Faith is healthy in our diocese? Are we growing or stagnant or fading?

2. Do you think we need spiritual renewal?

3. Do you think Catholics are making healthy use of the sacrament of confession? If you do, based on what, exactly?

4. And, finally, how can there be spiritual renewal without the sacrament of penance? Jesus gave us exactly seven sacraments, and exactly one that is all about forgiveness and conversion. How can there be any plan for spiritual renewal that doesn't include healthy portions of this sacrament?

Now, I know what a lot of people -- including priests -- will say: people won't come.

To which I say, yes and no.

Yes, it's true that adding more hours of confession may not make much of a difference, if that's all you do. But if you also talk about it, from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and other ways; if you talk about your own need for confession and how it's helped you; if you really go after it...then yes, it will help. You will see more people.

On the other hand, I will point out that if you can, there is a time when -- if you offer confessions -- people will come with hardly any extra effort. What is that magic time? It's right before Mass, either daily or Sunday.

Yes, it's frustrating that people seem to expect everything for their convenience. And as a priest all by myself in my parish, I realize it can be hectic hearing confessions right before Mass, and then get things ready for Mass. For that reason, I don't do this all the time. But I can tell you, it does work.

But in our largest parishes, we have two and sometimes three priests. Why not have confessions offered by the priest not offering that Mass? That way, you can offer confessions right up until Mass starts.

Sad to say, there was a lot of misinformation promoted for many years in priestly formation. A lot of priests were told that it was actually wrong to have confessions available if Mass was going on. This is false. We were told that you shouldn't have confessions during the Triduum; this is not only wrong, it's INSANE!

Yes, it's hard work, especially when you've got lots of other things to do, and that's certainly true the week before Christmas, and Holy Week. But people WILL come to confession at those times. And if you preach about (and also practice in your own life) frequent confession, you can and will make a difference. I've seen it work; I've heard people say, "I heard you talk about confession at Mass..." "You kept hammering the point, I finally came..."

Our country and our Church desperately need renewal. And that renewal cannot come without a revival of the sacrament of penance. Do you think I'm wrong? Tell me why.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Marriage & family are all about the journey to heavenly peace (Sunday homily)

As you may know, each Sunday of Easter 
I have been talking about one of the seven sacraments, 
because they are the primary way the power of the Resurrection, 
the new life of Christ, is poured into our lives.

This week we’re going to talk about the sacrament of marriage.
Meanwhile, the main thing the readings talk about is peace.
No doubt some of you are scratching your head, wondering,
What in the world does peace have to do with marriage and family life?

But of course, they really are all bound up together,
Because peace isn’t something that merely happens.
Whether in families, or between neighbors, or among nations,
Peace comes along a hard path, and even a long journey,
And usually with conflict most of the way along.

What’s more, I submit that Christian marriage 
shows us how such peace is achieved on every level.

Let’s recall exactly what a sacrament is:
an outward sign, instituted by Jesus Christ, to give grace; 
that is, God’s power, God’s own life, pour into our lives.

So marriage – like all sacraments – is a sign. 
This may seem obvious, but: when you talk about a sign,
there is what the sign is made of;
the message that the sign communicates: what it tells you; 
And third, where the sign takes you. 

With marriage, the sign itself is the man and the woman 
choosing each other for a specific purpose: to make a family. 

Meanwhile, what the sign of marriage tells us – the message – 
is who Christ is, and how he loves his Church.
Remember, Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, and we are his Bride.

And that brings us to the journey of marriage and family life:
It is all about human frailty and conflict;
At the same time, it is how we become the best versions of ourselves.
It’s a bumpy and painful ride, but the outcome is peace.
Not merely an absence of conflict, but the fullness of God’s own life. 

Marriage, let us be clear, wasn’t invented by the Church.
It derives from human nature itself; 
so every culture, every society, every religion, has marriage. 
In its most basic form, marriage is seeking a mate.

So marriage is about one very specific expression of love.
That specific love is about mating, and therefore, family.
It’s all bound up together. That is why it’s man plus woman.
What about two men or two women? 
Of course they can love each other, that’s fine!

But what they cannot do is be mates. They can’t be true spouses.
And this is revealed by the obvious fact that
two men or two women cannot make a family together.
This is not my opinion; this is not even a religious dogma.
It is simply a fact of science.

Where does this leave those with attractions to the same sex? 
Maybe someone here, or someone we know and care for?
The answer is, not everyone has a vocation to marriage.
I say that irrespective of orientation.
Many men and women enter marriage with each other, only to discover, 
to their sorrow, that one or the other isn’t cut out for it.

But everyone does have a vocation to love:
And by that I mean, a call from God 
to be truly giving and generous in our lives, no matter our state in life. 
Sometimes the truth we face about ourselves can be hard,
But evading or pretending is not the answer;
Living the truth may be harder, but it leads us to God.

How did we get so mixed up about this?
Because, as a society, we long ago started lying to ourselves 
about what sex really is for.

We preferred to believe that it is for self-fulfillment, 
so a life-long commitment is optional;
along the way, we also told ourselves the lie 
that sex can be separated from making children.

Normalizing contraception was critical to this whole misadventure, 
because so long as children are in the picture, even as a possibility,
then the man and the woman cannot really escape the call
to die to self, and precisely by doing so, to transcend themselves.

And really, that’s what mating and family are:
a capacity given us by God, to be more than we are,
resulting in a child, a “me” who is not me.
A parent calls this child “mine,” yet the child is all her own;
Someone who will go further, and rise higher.
And isn’t that the greatest dream of every father and mother?

So: people get frustrated at the Catholic Church 
for refusing to revisit or change her teaching 
that the marital act must always, always be open to the gift of life;
thereby excluding all forms of artificial birth control. But this is why.

Such a change would mean denying a truth 
that is both at the center of family life, 
and at the center of our Christian Faith:
In dying to self, new life is born.
If you take away the Cross, where is the Resurrection?

The way to peace that the readings present in different ways, 
is what powers family life along the bumpy road to heaven:
You and I die to ourselves, to our own pride and certainties.
Jesus Christ must be king; no one and nothing else will do.
The Holy Spirit must be the navigator. 
The Father is the home we are going to.

Day by day, families ride along together; somehow it works.
And it’s the same for the whole Church of Christ. 
You and I are on the way to that heavenly Jerusalem!
It’s a rough ride, but the Holy Spirit will get us there:
Jesus promised!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A homily for a new priest's first Mass (Sunday homily)

When a mother gives birth to a child, everyone celebrates. 
Today we and all the Archdiocese are celebrating, 
because Mother Church has given birth to nine new priests, 
including of course, Father Zach Cecil, a son of St. Mary Parish.

But what precisely are we celebrating? 

Certainly this is a great personal accomplishment 
for Father Cecil and his classmates. 
It has been a long slog of study and practice and prayer.
Along the way there are moments of doubt and darkness, 
but also consolation and conviction. 
This is what happens when Jesus says, “follow me,” and you go!

As much as I am tempted to talk about Father Zach, 
who I’ve known since he was a boy, 
and he himself told me then he was going to be a priest, 
this is only somewhat about him.
He will say, just as our beloved Father Caserta always said: 
It is all about the Lord.

The Gospel we just heard is a good starting point.
It begins on a dark note: Judas has just left the room!
We know where he’s going. 
We know what’s about to happen, only a few hours later.
But what does Jesus talk about? How terrible and sad everything is?
No. He says, Now is the time of glory!

There are lots of discordant notes in our time.
If you want to write a story about all that’s wrong with our society, 
and with our Church, you can do that very easily.

And yet as his friend turns traitor, Jesus almost seems buoyant: 
God’s going to act now, he says; and it’s going to happen “at once.” 

This darkness is the moment of Christ’s great victory, and of ours! 
This is when all hope and life is about to be born!

So in light of that, I say to you, Father, 
what a priest recently said in the National Catholic Register: 
“There is no better time to be a Catholic priest.”

This ties in with the first reading, where we see Paul and Barnabas
actually ordain men as priests to serve the local churches, 
But as Paul does so, he warns them about hardships to come.

Back to my question: what are we celebrating? 
It is that the glory of Christ is made manifest: here, in our midst!
That’s what Easter is. That’s what the sacraments are. 
And that’s what this sacrament of Holy Orders is all about.

Jesus gives an invitation. Each of us hears it in a particular way.
For some, it is to be, as he told Peter, “fishers of men.”
To be, as Paul described many times, fathers of spiritual children.

Every once in a while you can hear some grouch complaining, 
“why does he get to be a priest but not me?”

But the true perspective is seen in the joy we feel 
when first a man enters the seminary, 
and even more, when he returns to us as a priest.

The reason for that joy is obvious: 
most realize that while this call to Holy Orders indeed is a privilege – 
and certainly every priest knows it deep in his bones, 
because he knows how very unworthy he is! –
Nevertheless, the priesthood is fundamentally a gift:
Maybe 1% to the man himself; 99% to everyone else.

The other day I heard someone say that in marriage and family life,
you experience both the lowest lows and the highest highs.
You give yourself, and lose yourself in another, 
and from that gift comes the miracle of new life, 
with every possible heartache and exaltation. 

No parent would wish his or her hardships on anyone else; 
but neither would they wish away the gift of their family.

Here’s the thing: all this is likewise true of the priesthood:
The lowest lows and highest highs. 
The moment of the Cross is the moment of glory.
This just points out something many don’t realize:
The priesthood is, in many ways, a mirror of marriage.

Holy, happy, Christ-centered families give us healthy, holy priests; 
and in turn, it is faithful, courageous priests who strengthen us 
as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

Let me close by saying something to you, Father, priest-to-priest, 
which I know you will believe; but it may take time fully to understand.

Father, you promised the Archbishop you would obey him; 
and to teach Christ’s word faithfully, 
and to celebrate the sacred mysteries with zeal and devotion.
You will teach and explain the Faith with conviction;
You will get up early and stay up late to comfort the grieving 
and fortify those who are weary and lost.
You will baptize, absolve, and be a companion in joy and sorrow.

But at the center is the Holy Mass.
Whether before hundreds of family and friends, 
or seemingly all by yourself, 
you stand at the altar and you hear Jesus say,
“This is My Body, given for you.”
And you will be shocked that it is your own voice saying it.
You can’t stand apart from it. It is Jesus, all Jesus, all the time.
And yet, in an impossible mystery, it is also you.

Day by day, year by year, laying yourself on the altar.
“No greater love,” Jesus said. This is what his priests do.
This is how they love the people he gives his priests to care for.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Anointing brings Christ into our suffering, and our suffering into Christ (Sunday homily)

As you may know, I decided during Easter Season to focus, 
each Sunday, on one of the seven sacraments. 
This week we’re going to talk about the anointing of the sick.

But why even talk about the sacraments? 
Because Easter and the Resurrection 
are all about the explosion of God’s life in our world. 
When a dead body comes to life and people see it, 
that changes everything, wouldn’t you agree?

What Easter is about, is also what the sacraments are about:
God’s life, poured into our lives, so we can become like God.
Another word for this is grace. The power of God. The life of God.

What did Jesus say in the Gospel?
“I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish”!
That is what the sacraments do: they are sure and certain 
means of receiving this grace, this eternal, imperishable life.

What’s more, it’s also useful simply to explain each of the sacraments.
Lots of people have questions, but they don’t always dare to ask.

So let’s focus in on the anointing of the sick.
One of the ways this is misunderstood is that people think 
you only call the priest to be anointed 
when you’re one breath from death.

More accurate is to say it is for all those who are in “danger of death,” 
which is not the same thing. 

For example, lots of people have cancer or heart conditions 
or other situations that can be dangerous, 
but that doesn’t mean they’re going to die at any moment.
And there are certainly operations and surgeries 
where there is a real danger – and yet people still survive.

The Church specifically says that simply the frailty of age 
justifies receiving the sacrament of anointing.

You can receive the anointing more than once: 
if things don’t get better, and especially if they get worse.

Children, even, can receive the anointing, 
since they too face dangerous situations, 
although we dread even think about it.

That said, before a child can be given the anointing, 
he or she must be baptized and confirmed. 
Not many people know that a child, even an infant, 
can be confirmed in an emergency. I have done it several times.

So if someone wants to be anointed, what do you do?
Simply put, call the priest! 
My telephone and email address are in the bulletin. 
I am very happy to anoint people whenever they ask.
Many times I do this after a weekday or a weekend Mass, 
but planning ahead is better than waiting till the last minute.

If possible, go to confession first, then be anointed.
Obviously, I can do both for you at the same time, 
but also obviously, when I’m in the confessional, 
that’s not a good time to ask for the anointing.

Nobody likes getting a call like this at 3 am, 
but if you call me at that or any hour, I will answer the phone. 
Just call XXX-XXXX*, and if it’s after hours, 
hit “1” on the phone system; that is for emergencies. 
And if I’m out and about, a message will go to my cell phone. 

Any hospital will know how to get a hold of a priest. 
But it won’t happen automatically; you have to ask, 
and sometimes, you have to insist.

If all the sacraments give grace, then why have seven of them?
The answer is that the sacraments were designed by Christ; 
tailored, if you will, to suit our particular needs at various points in life.

So when we talk about the grace of God – 
the supernatural life of God – in one sense, it’s all the same thing. 
One God, one life, one destiny, which is resurrection for ourselves, 
and the fullness of life in the new heavens and the new earth.

All the same, you and I live in time. 
We’re born, we grow up, we consider our path in life;
maybe we get married. We need help along the way.
Jesus gives us seven sacraments as helps at all these moments of life.
And at a certain point in everyone’s life, 
we face suffering and illness 
and the fear and doubts that go with them.
Our Lord wants us to know that he doesn’t forget us 
in these times of weakness or darkness or humiliation.
He is not ashamed to be with us at our worst moments.

(Here I inserted some comments about the trials of illness and suffering, and pointed out that our world says to those who suffer, "just die," Christ comes to be with us in our trials, showing us his wounds. We understand Christ in a unique way in times of illness.)

This anointing is called a “sacrament of healing.”
It absolutely brings healing, 
which sometimes includes physical recovery.
I have seen it happen, and so have other priests.
But the main healing is a closeness with Christ, 
Which brings courage and peace, even in the midst of turmoil,
such as Paul and Barnabas showed in the first reading.

Notice what the Apostle John was told in the second reading:
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”
Jesus knows the ordeals, physical and emotional, 
that we face with illness and surgeries and declining health.

To stand before his throne, no more tears, no more fear.
That is our future.
And the sacrament of anointing – really, all the sacraments – 
exist to give us a foretaste of that hope right here, right now.

* I decided the whole world doesn't need me making it easy to call me at night.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Feeding us himself is the most important thing to Jesus (Sunday homily)

If you look at the Gospels, 
Jesus spent a lot of time eating with people and feeding them.
Did you ever wonder why that is?

To invite someone to a meal, and to accept that invitation, 
are powerful signs of welcome and friendship. 
To prepare a meal for another person is an act of love.

So the reason there’s so much eating in the Gospels?
Because Jesus wants us to know: he likes being with us!
He wants to feed us! He loves us.

So notice what Jesus put at the center of the life of the Church:
The Holy Mass, where he gives us, 
not just ordinary food, but his own, precious, Body and Blood! 
The best of food! The best of meals!

When we have family members and friends 
who belong to other Christian denominations, 
who have beliefs and practices that are similar in some ways, 
it’s easy to overlook some really important aspects.

For most other Christians, Holy Communion 
is only a sign that points to Jesus’ presence. 
They believe that the bread and wine never change into anything; 
they remain bread and wine.

And, to be very blunt, many Catholics erroneously believe this too.
Sometimes people say, well, it looks like bread, it tastes like wine,
So that’s all it is, and I don’t believe all this stuff about a miracle.
But then, there were people who met Jesus, and said,
He looks like he’s only a human being, 
So I don’t believe he’s also the Lord our God!

People don’t ever say these things to me, but if they did, 
here’s what I would want to say back to them:

Do you believe that you need to be saved?  
Do you need God to rescue you from what sin does?
To forgive your sins and change you, 
to keep you from hell and bring you to heaven? 

Some people, if they were very candid, would admit:
No, I don’t need God to do those things. I’m doing just fine.

And if that’s what you believe, then Jesus makes no sense.
Baptism, confession, all the sacraments make no sense.
Above all, the Mass and the Eucharist just aren’t very important.
So bread, wine, body, blood, whatever? Who cares?

On the other hand, if you look in your heart, and see:
I’m not just fine on my own. I do wrong things, 
And if it weren’t for God helping me, I’d end up in a terrible place!

Then it makes all the difference whether Jesus gives you a cracker, 
or he gives you his own Body, his own Blood! 
His own divinity and soul and self!

If you believe this, if you believe Jesus meant it when he said, 
“This is my Body…this is my Blood,” 
and if you believe Jesus makes that happen at Holy Mass –
and I do believe this, and this precisely what we believe as Catholics – 
then isn’t it obvious why we come Sunday after Sunday?

I have a pill I take every day; it’s supposed to keep my arteries clear 
and help me avoid having a heart attack. So I take my pill.

Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” That’s what he said,
over and over in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,” Jesus said,
“has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

So why wouldn’t all Catholics want to have this Food, this Life, 
as often as they could?

Today, we have our second graders making their first communion. 
I’ve watched you grow up from babies, and so many of you, 
when you walk up front with your parents, 
I can see how much you have been looking forward to this day. 
So have your parents, and so have I!

But I want to repeat what I said to you on “Jesus Day”:
It isn’t your first communion that matters the most, 
but our last communion, and all that come between.

That repetition is critical. Parents, you know this is true! 
You remind your kids over and over to say “please” and “thank you.”
It drives you crazy, but you know that if you don’t, 
the habit will never take root.

Sad to say, this happens with the Eucharist.  
Lots of people make a first communion, but they drift away, 
they forget about Jesus, and maybe they never come back!

So, you keep coming. Stay close to Jesus through prayer 
and especially in the sacrament of confession.
And keep coming to Mass and keep receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood.
He so wants to feed us. It’s the most important thing to him.

In which case, let’s pray for each other: 
parents, pray for your children; kids, pray for your parents,
that what is the most important thing to Jesus, 
will be the most important thing to you, to me, to every one of us.