Sunday, June 30, 2019

What's your focus? (Sunday homily)

Click to see where I got this cute dog picture.

Regarding these readings, one word stands out: focus.

In the first reading, we have Elijah seeking out the man
God had chosen as his successor, Elisha. Elisha is focused:
by slaughtering his oxen and giving away the food,
he shut the door on ever going back
on his resolve to be the Lord’s prophet.

In the Gospel, Jesus is totally focused on Jerusalem.
He knows what will happen there:
he will give his life as a ransom for many.
James and John’s focus is somewhere else.

They remind me of a saying a friend of mine has:
“Keep your eye on the main chance;
don’t stop to kick every barking dog.”
James and John are stopping to kick the Samaritans;
Jesus is keeping his eye on the prize,
which is the Cross, and the salvation of the world.

Paul’s advice in the second reading could be restated as following:
the reason you don’t want to give into temptations
is because they will keep you from gaining eternal life.
Keep moving! Keep focused!
Keep your eye on the main chance, which is heaven!

Our mission is to get to heaven,
and bring as many others with us as we can.
To the extent that we can,
we bring the law of the Kingdom into this world –
because Jesus isn’t just king of heaven,
he is the rightful king of this world as well.

Last Friday, it was wonderful
to have so many men and boys of all ages come out
for our annual Men’s Prayer Walk.
It was a good time of friendship; and the cookout was great,
with good food and games.
But what was the focus?
Prayer; and lifting up Jesus Christ before our community,
and praying for him to bless the people of our parish.

I walked right behind the older boys
who were taking turns lifting up the Cross. That was the focus.
And it seemed like all those taking part understood that.

This coming Friday, we have a group of folks
who are going to be keeping vigil in the church,
after the First Friday Mass,
which they do every First Friday.

We have an all-night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament.
They will be praying for conversion, seeking to consecrate themselves,
and our world, more deeply to the Two Hearts:
the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
You are welcome to come and join in.

So what really is your focus?
Now is a good time to re-focus: Jesus and his Kingdom.
Bringing our families and our community to know him.
That’s all that really matters, here and hereafter.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

At Mass/at Calvary: there is no other moment (Corpus Christi homily)

In two of these readings we hear the name Melchizedek, 
and we also hear that name in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
So we might ask, who the heck is Melchizedek?

As the passage says, he was a king, the king of Salem, 
which we know better as Jerusalem.
The word “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness”;
“Salem” means peace, so he is also, “king of peace.”

An even more important detail: he is a priest;
he offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. Note well: bread and wine.
Early in the first book of the Bible, 
we have a foreshadowing of Jesus himself, 
of the priesthood he would establish, 
of the Holy Mass, and of the Eucharist.

On this feast established to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, 
it is fitting to point out that these three things all go together:
The priesthood; the Mass; and the Eucharist. 
It is all a package deal.

What is essential to priesthood is that a priest offers sacrifice; 
by virtue of offering sacrifice, 
the priest is a mediator between God and humanity.
But if there is no sacrifice, there is nothing special a priest brings.

The sacrifice which Christian priests offer is the Holy Mass. 
The Mass is not primarily about the readings or the homily.
Rather, the Mass is essentially about the altar;
Or, to put it more bluntly, the Mass is really the Cross.
What happened on the Cross is made present on the altar.
This is why, traditionally, the altar was elevated, so it is central; 
so that everyone’s gaze naturally goes there. 

This is why it matters that we do things with reverence and dignity.
It’s why our altar servers’ role is so important.
It’s why how we behave here, how we dress and act, matters.
As many know, the Church went through a period of madness 
in recent decades, in which our churches were wrecked 
and the Mass was celebrated with all the decorum of a backyard picnic.

To this day, we sometimes bring a minimalistic attitude.
If only Father can hurry things along! Do the minimum.
Can you imagine being at Calvary, Jesus is on the Cross,
And saying to him, “Lord, can we hurry this along?”

The fact is, when you are at Mass, you ARE at Calvary!
That is the most important thing to know about the Mass.
If you understand nothing else about Mass, wake up to that fact!

And to those who complain about having to be at Mass – 
which means, remember, being at Calvary – each and every week, 
I respond: “have to”? Have to? You and I GET to be at Calvary! 
In fact, if you want, you can be at Calvary, with Jesus on the Cross, 
every single day, at daily Mass!

Jesus’ mother Mary and the Apostle John and Mary Magdalene 
and a few others were with Jesus at the Cross; 
then when St. Peter and the other Apostles offered Holy Mass 
the first time, they were there as well.
Do you ever wonder what St. Peter was thinking and feeling,
As he celebrated Holy Mass? He could have been at Calvary, 
but he wasn’t there, because of his cowardice.

The whole point of the Mass is to enable you and me really to be there.
And just because someone drops a hymnal, or cell phones go off, 
or maybe the people near you don’t sing very well,
or the priest talks too long and is plain boring…

None of that changes the fundamental reality;
And none of that prevents you from experiencing the truth, 
the reality of the Holy Mass;
I’ll say it again: you are really at the Cross with Jesus!

And if we don’t get that, then we miss what the Eucharist is.
I’m going to be blunt here: a lot of people just go through the motions.
Sit, kneel, stand, go up front; 
get the white thing and put it in my mouth, go back, 
sit, stand, and go home.

When you and I take the Eucharist, 
that means we are uniting ourselves to the sacrifice. 
When you and I take the Body and the Blood, 
we are saying a lot of things all at once:

- That we are prepared to live for Jesus, united with Jesus, 
        living and dying with him. It means we’re “all in.”
- It means we’ve been to confession if we have any mortal sin.
- It means we accept the Cross as the shape of our own lives; 
- Being all about giving ourselves, just as Jesus did;
- Embracing trials and suffering as being full of hope, 
        even as the Cross is ultimately about hope.

In other words, bringing the Body and Blood of Jesus to your lips 
is a solemn moment; nothing actually is more solemn, more serious.
If you are married, your vows come close;
If you were sworn into the military, or swore an oath in court, 
that is a pretty big deal, but nothing compared to this!

If you receive Holy Communion today at Mass, 
this could be the last time you ever do. This is it!
That can be true for any of us. 

Receive the Holy Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ own self, 
offered on Calvary, if you are prepared to do so. 
But if you do, recognize what you do! 
Realize what a powerful moment this is. There is no other moment. 
Here is Jesus; he gives his all to you. There is nothing else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Critical path for a party

Last Friday I had some friends over. With three couples, the seminarian and me, that was a total of eight. I had been looking forward to this party, and I had definite plans for it.

Do you know what a "critical path" is? When I worked in Washington, my boss at the time taught me this technique: in short, it means figuring out what part of a project will take the longest and is least time-elastic. By looking at that information, as well as all the other things that need to be complete -- and in what order -- it becomes possible to work backward and figure out both the time needed, as well as the best order in which to proceed. In other words, if you want to have a party begin at 5 pm, it's pretty important to know when to start getting things ready. Moreover, certain things can be done further out, while some things really need to be done right before. This helps you sort it all out.

I thought you might be amused to see the critical path I worked up last Friday for this party. Here it is verbatim:

Critical Path

2:00 pm Prepare other snacks – 10 mins
2:10 pm Set up table – 20 mins
2:30 pm Glasses, silverware, plates on porch – 20 mins
2:50 pm Prepare bar – 10 mins
3:00 pm Prepare antipasto – 30 mins
                Slice cheese
                Open olives
                Open artichoke hearts
3:30 pm Prepare potatoes – 10 mins
                Drizzle with oil
                Season w/rosemary, salt, pepper, red pepper
3:40 pm Fill cooler with ice & drinks – 20 mins
4:00 pm Prepare vegetable kabobs – 10 mins
                See recipe
4:30 pm Prepare bleu cheese olives – 10 mins
4:45 pm Prepare meat – 10 mins
                Dry off, let stand at room temp

As it happens, there were a few things I didn't include, but that's OK; this got me all the main things.
I might explain, the table was set up outside, under a tree; and that meant I had to watch the weather; if it was either too hot, or too windy, or if rain threatened, I'd go with Plan B, which was the dining room. The temperature was perfect and no rain fell, but it was gusty while I was setting things up, so I held off on the glassware; which, as planned, I kept on the table on the porch. That's where we ended up having drinks and the antipasto, but we moved to the table for the main course, dessert, coffee and digestivos.

So what was for dinner? It went as follows:

1. Apperitivos: cocktails & drinks; chips, nuts.
2. Antipasto of ham and sopressata, assorted cheeses, olives and marinated artichokes
3. The Main Course was brined pork chops, with vegetable kabobs, rosemary potatoes and buttermilk cornbread. (My recipes for the chops and potatoes are below.)
4. Dolce: Graeters ice cream with cookies and pretzels.
5. Coffee & digestivos followed.

The pork chops were sliced thick: 1-1/2"; I brined them overnight in water, kosher salt, garlic powder, dried rosemary, and black pepper. I usually use red pepper, but I didn't have any this time. In the morning I poured out the water, but a good amount of the seasoning remained on the chops. I layered them between paper towels to reduce the moisture; the one downside to brining the chops is that you don't get as good a sear on them. After bringing them to room temperature, I grilled them on each side for a few minutes, and let them sit at a lower temperature for a few minutes more.

For the potatoes, I found a mix of smallish red, yellow and blue potatoes (otherwise red would have been fine); I cut the larger ones in half but left the smaller ones whole. I drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over all of them, then seasoned with rosemary, salt, pepper and red pepper and tossed them to be sure they where well covered. I placed this in the oven, along with the cornbread.

How did it all turn out? During the preprandials, I was able to introduce a couple of my friends to my own particular version of a martini. They said they liked it, but alas, I suspect they did not love it! It is an acquired taste. We had several wines to choose from, and one friend chose a Pinot Noir, which worked well. For digestivos, we had Amaro, Limoncello, Cognac and Strega. The Strega was much scorned.

As for the food, aside from not being seared as nicely as I like, the pork chops were excellent. I cooked a dozen chops, so my grill was pretty crowded. I was being cautious with the veggies, and they could have used a little more time. Also, the butter sauce for this I found later in the microwave, but they were still pretty good. The cornpone was good; the potatoes would have been better with more roasting.

Part of my rationale for this menu was I didn't want to have anything taking a lot of time, and that worked out pretty well. I'd do this menu again.

Everyone stayed till dark, so pretty obviously we all had a good time. I'm planning two more parties in August; it may be too hot to sit outside then. We'll see!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Show God's Face (Holy Trinity)

Today is Father’s Day. Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. 
And I think I’m going to keep this pretty simple.

Here’s something that can be a shock
when you realize it the first time, but:
we turn into our parents!

My father had funny little habits.
For example, whenever we’d drive somewhere, 
from time to time he’d say, “there’s a Burger King,” 
or “there’s Dairy Queen.” 
So I’d ask, “did you want to stop?”
“No,” he’d say. It was just something he’d do, pointing places out.

So guess what? Now I do exactly the same thing!

And I tell the exact same goofy jokes my father told!

The point being, that our parents play a huge role, 
And a big part of that is showing us who God is.

So when you and I talk about God being our Father,
That will be shaped by the father we grow up with.
For some people, obviously, this can mean some real trials of faith, 
because sometimes those relationships are a mess.
That can make it hard for some people to draw close to God; 
So the natural question, if that’s you, is: what do I do about this?

Honestly, that’s not easy. But one thing to do is to look at Jesus. 
The Son of God became human, and came among us, 
precisely to show us the face of God. 
Drawing close to Jesus helps us realize who God the Father is.

Another thing we can do is look around at other people in our lives.
Who has been there, steady and faithful and giving?
That person is showing you the face of the Father, 
you just didn’t know it.

And a third thing we do – we all do – 
is learn to be more forgiving of our parents’ flaws and limitations, 
especially as we reach that stage in life.

All that said, I don’t want to emphasize the negative. 
Rather, I want to stress how powerfully God’s love 
works through each of us, as imperfect as we are. 

That’s what each of the readings is talking about:
God was filled with a longing to create this world, 
and fill it with life – us, above all; 
that’s what the first reading is about.

And when humanity fell into sin and darkness, 
The Father’s love did not abate, but rather overflowed;
This is why Jesus came, why Jesus died, 
and why he gave us the Holy Spirit. 

You and I cannot begin to comprehend 
the height and breadth and depth of that love of God for each of us.
But if you are a parent, then you have a sense,
Because that’s the love you have for your own children.
They may defy you, disappoint you, drive you crazy at times,
But you never stop loving them. 
Not only can you not imagine doing so, 
even thinking about that is terribly painful.

That’s the love you – a flawed creature – have.
Multiply that by infinity, and that’s God’s love for each of us.

Everything I’ve said applies to both mothers and fathers.
But on this Father’s day, 
I do want to say something just to men, just to fathers. 

We all see how our culture denigrates fatherhood. 
Boys and men are routinely labeled “toxic.”
Movies and TV depict men as threats, or else fathers as a joke.
Or else they are simply absent.
And, of course, in reality that is often true.

Before it seems I am pointing the finger elsewhere, let me say this:
Too many of our spiritual fathers – priests and bishops – 
have degraded themselves and shamed the Church. 

So what do we do? Again, specifically addressing the boys and men:
You are a father now, or else you hope to be. 
I accepted the call to be a spiritual father, 
and I am confident there are other men here 
who God wants to be priests as well. 
Whatever our path, what we do is we stand up and be men.  
You’ve heard this before: we guard, we guide and we give.
If other men, other fathers, are dropping the ball, let’s pick it up!

Your spiritual leadership, here at Mass and at home, 
play a huge role in leading your children to a healthy and lasting faith.
No guarantees, but it will give you and them every advantage.
Lead your children to Mass; lead them in prayer; 

Above all, show them what true generosity, true love, looks like.
My father has been gone awhile, but his lessons are with me always;
And it will be the same for your children long decades in the future!

And if you will forgive me, I’m going to give a plug 
for our annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
Every year at this time – coming up on Friday, June 28 – 
all the boys and men of every age are invited to come together 
to walk a couple of miles around the perimeter of our parish, 
after which we have a meal and fellowship.

We’ll meet behind my house by 5:30 pm, board some hay wagons,
Ride out to the road where we’ll walk and pray, and then come back.
If you can’t walk, just ride on the hay wagon, or bring your golf cart!

Why do this? To be men; to be fathers, 
who provide spiritual leadership, and spiritual protection, 
for our parish. To teach our sons and grandsons.
And in all that, we show God’s face to our community.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The world is on fire: so is the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily)

Today you and I celebrate Pentecost. 
This is a big day – bigger, I think, than we realize. 

This is a day to celebrate, to be full of joy, because – 
It is the day God’s infinite Joy – the Holy Spirit – 
was poured out on the early believers. 

For the Jewish People, Pentecost coincided with the wheat harvest.
It was also considered the day God gave the Ten Commandments.

So consider what Jesus gave us on this day:
The Holy Spirit: God’s Law written, not on stone, but in our hearts.
And again, on that very day, Christ’s great harvest of souls began.

There is something about our Christian Faith we know about, 
but sometimes forget, and it is this:
Strength and weakness, exaltation and humiliation,
Good News and “bad” news, are all bound up together.

The king of heaven is born a poor child in a stable. 
His throne was the Cross.
To follow him is a path of glory, but sorrows first. 

Sometimes we get so steeped in bad news: 
about the world, about our society, about our Church;
that we forget this truth: Victory is often concealed in defeat.

So let’s talk about some bad news without flinching.
It is shocking to see our culture so rapidly turn pagan.
Churches are being vandalized by the hundreds across France.
Nearly one in four Americans report having “no religion.” 
No doubt some of this is a result of failed leadership 
and clergy who behaved as criminals.

One more data point: 2019 marks the highest tide of persecution 
of Christians ever – in 2,000 years.

Ah, but remember: On Pentecost, 
a tiny group of nobodies were set aflame by the Holy Spirit, 
and they started a blaze that continues to crackle and spread.

So disturbing was that first Christian explosion 
that the mighty Roman Empire declared all out war on Christ.
For three centuries, Rome sought to exterminate us;
right up until Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, 
saw the Cross in the sky, and bowed down before the King of Kings!

There is a reason for so much persecution that you never hear.
Did you know that in Africa and Asia, 
Many, many Muslims are converting to Christ?
This in countries where converting brings a death sentence;
where Christians are barred from entry, bibles are confiscated;
Christian worship and sacraments must be kept secret.

According to Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, 
Many of these Muslim converts report 
receiving visions and dreams of Jesus and Mary.
Pentecost Fire is still spreading!

This is what the terrorists are trying to kill. They will fail!
In China, we hear about churches being bulldozed and clergy arrested.
But again, this is connected to Christianity spreading.
From ten million in 1980 to an estimated 100 million today.

Sometimes the best of times for us are the worst:
When everything is secure and we are prosperous, we lose our way.
Meanwhile, when the sky seems to be falling, everything is dark:
The blood of martyrs, Tertullian said, is the seed of the Church.

Now, let me say a word about the tiny bit of earth 
called St. Remy Parish, which God has entrusted to you and me.
We’re not perfect, despite all that we have going for us.

Nevertheless, with God’s help, something good is happening here.
Last Sunday I talked about the good scores our students received.
But that’s just one indicator. 
We have lots of youth activities where they build friendships 
centered on faith. 
This is flowing into college, 
and our kids themselves are making things happen. 
We had a lot of people make a Marian consecration at New Years, 
and the result was two more Militia Immaculata groups.

It’s all a package deal: dedicated catechists, 
capable people who work for our parish, 
a community that wants to keep Faith at the center, 
and families that pray together 
and go to confession and Mass together.

But before this turns into a brag, let me give a caution: 
All this works, when we work it: 
that is, when kids really do show up at religious education;
when people really do take advantage of confession;
when folks really do get involved in prayer and faith activities.

But not everyone does. There’s a drop-off in high school years, 
and when the school year winds down. 
Sad to say, for some, sports trumps faith.

Look: there are winds of unbelief blowing harder all the time, 
and it’s becoming a raging storm. 
I have to ask: do you want your kids to stay Catholic? 
Marry as Catholics? 
Do you want your grandchildren to be baptized as Catholics?
Do you think this is going to happen automatically?

So yes, there are good things happening here, 
but the minute any of us becomes complacent, and rests on our laurels, 
we’re headed for a crash. Mark my words.

And if you wonder why we put so much time and money and effort
into reinforcing our kids’ faith, this is why!
This parish exists for one, and ONLY one reason: to make disciples!

So, we can look at the world and see all the ways it’s going crazy.
All the trouble brewing, especially for Christians. It’s true.
But look again: the Holy Spirit is also at work: 
Let’s you and I be part of it! 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Ascension is about getting ready for the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily)

As you know, each Sunday during Easter Season 
I have been focusing on one of the sacraments. 
This Sunday – when we recall the Ascension of our Lord 
back to the heights of heaven – I want to talk about confirmation.

Does that surprise you? It surprises me! 
Originally I was going to talk about it next week, on Pentecost, 
which would seem an obvious tie-in.

Naturally, you would expect me to talk about 
Jesus returning to heaven.
However, I want you to notice something in the readings we heard:
When Jesus talks about his ascending to heaven, 
he himself ties it to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit “in a few days.”

So it seems that the Ascension is pretty closely tied to Pentecost.
Jesus said elsewhere in the Gospel that he had to return to heaven, 
Precisely in order to send the Holy Spirit to them.

If you are wondering why, let me explain it this way. 
Every Thursday we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, all day.
And during the school year – and a few times over the summer – 
we have a time for children to adore Jesus. 
Meanwhile, I’m hearing confessions.

When I come out of the confessional, 
lots of children’s eyes turn toward me! That’s what kids do, right?
But of course, I don’t want them looking at me – 
their gaze belongs on Jesus, who is on the altar. 
So I walk out of sight, so they look at Jesus.
Similarly, Jesus knew that as long as he remained on earth, 
the believers would not discover the power of the Holy Spirit. 
They would not discover the power of the sacraments. 

Think of it: if Jesus stayed on earth in his body – 
the way he was with the Apostles – 
then everyone would want to go wherever he is. 

If he travelled the world, people could see him – 
maybe from a distance. The pope travels the world. 
How many people have gotten close to him? 
How many people have even talked to him?

So Jesus said: it is better for you that I go.
That caused us to turn our gaze to the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments. 
And as a result, everyone, everywhere, 
can be as close to Jesus as possible, every day, all the time.

Now let’s talk about the sacrament of confirmation.
And just as the Ascension and Pentecost go together,
So the sacraments of baptism and confirmation go together.
The Catechism tells us that “in the first centuries 
Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, 
forming with it a ‘double sacrament,’”
in the words of St. Cyprian (CCC 1290).

This is still what we do when someone old enough 
to understand the sacraments wants to be baptized. 
So this past Easter, we had a second-grader be baptized, confirmed, 
and make her first Holy Communion, all at the same Mass.
If you try to think about confirmation apart from baptism, 
it’s hard to explain. 
We say, you receive the Holy Spirit; except, that happens in baptism. 
We say, you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; 
but does that mean you and I don’t receive 
the gifts of the Holy Spirit until then?

Baptism is when you and I begin to be a Christian. 
We are washed clean and made new. 
You and I become another Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit.

One way to understand confirmation is to listen to what the bishop says 
as he anoints you with chrism:
“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Be sealed”: those are the key words.
We might think of sealing an envelope: that keeps the contents safe.
Jesus went to a lot of trouble to save us; 
he wants to “seal” the life of God, the gifts of God, in our lives.

Another way to think about it 
would be to think of how certain documents receive a “seal,” 
demonstrating that they are authentic, the real thing;
they are complete, ready to go.
The “seal” of the Holy Spirit means you and I are, in a sense, 
“the real thing,” and that we’re “ready to go.”

So this is why whenever someone is in danger of death – 
especially young children – 
it is proper not only to baptize, but also confirm.
I know that’s not something we like thinking about, 
but any priest will gladly come right away 
and give your child confirmation, even an infant.

Of course, someone will ask, then why do most of us 
receive the sacrament of confirmation later, 
in junior high or high school?

The short answer, in a word, is “history.” 
Over the centuries, things got rearranged to how it is now,
And that’s what people are used to. 
Maybe someday it’ll all be put back to the traditional way,
but don’t hold your breath; most bishops are inclined to leave it as it is.

So for those who aren’t confirmed yet, especially those who expect 
to receive the sacrament of confirmation this fall, 
my word for you is “get ready.” 
Christ wants you to be his representatives – and you are, already; 
but there’s still more to learn, more ways to grow.
When you receive the sacrament, Christ is saying, “you’re ready!”

And therefore, for the rest of us who have been confirmed?
It means, “no excuses”! The Holy Spirit has sealed us.
We’re authentic, genuine Christians, the real deal.
That’s a lot to live up to, which is why the other sacraments 
are so important, so we really DO live up to it.