Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Project 88: getting up to present

Here's another post catching up to the present on "Project 88," my effort to visit each county in Ohio.

Let's pick up with Preble County, since I did indeed pass through there yesterday. I thought of visiting Heuston Woods again, retracing the steps of my family back in 1974, when my parents got together with my aunt and uncle, combining a 25th wedding anniversary with a 24th, and throwing a "49ers" Party, to which all manner of friends and relatives came. But I'm not sure I would have found the same shelter -- if it's even still there -- and I didn't want to take the time.

I'd been at Jungle Jims and picked up several items I can't get anywhere else, including some interesting varieties of olives and cheese. So those items were warming up in my car, and I was expected at home around 5, so no time to go traipsing around the state park. Instead I drove straight up U.S. 127 from Fairfield through Hamilton! (sic), one of the largest cities in the U.S. to be completely bypassed by an Interstate highway. North of Hamilton, things were rather sad looking. My first stop was Camden, where I noticed this architectural juxtaposition:

Which do you like better?

I got back on 127, and headed to Eaton, the county seat. A sign directed me to an old bridge, so of course I turned; then I saw this. I was too lazy to get out of my car, so it's a little far away; but if you blow it up, you'll see who built it and when on top of the bridge.

Turning right, however, I came upon this bridge, which is the really old one. Then I snapped a picture of the river and the dam; the dangling fingertips are a nice touch, don't you think?

Now let me backtrack and give a little history of prior years' visits to counties. My first visit to Miami County was in 2000, when I was assigned to Saint Boniface Parish in Piqua for an internship as part of my seminary training. At the time, I had no idea where Piqua was. But I would continue to be associated with Piqua from that point on, first as a seminarian for several years, then as pastor of Saint Boniface in 2005, and of Saint Mary in 2006, until I was reassigned in 2012. Here is a recent interior photo of Saint Mary, from the parish website, followed by what Saint Mary looked like long ago. I don't have a photo of St. Mary in its wreckovated state, but it's current look is almost entirely due to my predecessor.

Here is a current interior shot of Saint Boniface, courtesy of the Facebook page, followed by what it looked like when I arrived, and what it used to look like (the latter two images from the parish website):

I'm not certain, but my first visit to Champaign County was when I attended a funeral at Sacred Heart Church in St. Paris. My first visit to Darke County was likely whenever I ate a meal at the Inn at Versailles (pictures at the link), which continues to be a favorite place. Friends from Cincinnati come up each year for the Minster Oktoberfest (oops, I just slipped into Auglaize County!), and they stay at the Inn. Last year I missed their visit because of a pilgrimage to Italy; I hope to be with them this year. Darke County is also home to the notable Annie Oakley. I've visited Shelby County lots of times; but of course, I live here now! While I'm in the neighborhood, let's mention Mercer County, where Maria Stein is located, the home of the motherhouse for the Sisters of the Precious Blood, better known as the Shrine of the Holy Relics. Somewhere I read that Mercer County drinks more beer than any county, and I believe it. I'm not sure when I first visited Logan County, but I just recently visited, on the way across the state to Wheeling, when I toured the Ohio Caverns (pictures at the link).

Many times over the years my family visited Lima, in Allen County (I was recently there again, but I will mention that in a later post). Franklin County is the location of our state capital, Columbus; I recall being there in high school in the late 70s when I was part of a mock state legislature, organized by something called "Hi-Y," now called Ohio YMCA Youth in Government. That was insanely fun; we pretended to be members of the legislature, attending committee meetings and sitting in the actual seats where the legislators sit. One year I competed to be the Speaker of the House. The way it worked was that the other candidate and I picked a bill to have on the floor for debate; and we were supposed to manage it, thus showing our abilities. Alas, I picked a boring bill and nothing much happened; my competitor picked something really interesting, and lots happened. He also went second, and folks were warmed up.

In 1980, I went up to Cuyahoga County for the famous debate between President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan. I wasn't in the same room, but in some adjacent area; but we did get to see Governor Reagan afterward, and I think I shook his hand. I wasn't astute enough to realize how pivotal that debate was.

Sometime in college my frat brothers (Sigma Alpha Mu) and I made a road trip to Ohio University -- so that got me to Athens County. While in the seminary, another seminarian and I made a trip up to Cedar Park in Sandusky, which is in Erie County. Along the way, we stopped at his alma mater in Tiffin Ohio (that checks off Seneca County). At some point, I visited the Shrine of our Lady of Consolation in Carey Ohio -- that's Wyandot County. In preparation for, I think, ordination to the diaconate, my classmates had an unfortunate retreat at a retreat house in Fremont, Ohio; that's Sandusky County. I attended an ordination, I think, at Our Lady, Queen of the Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, in Lucas County. Finally (for this post), I attended an ordination and first Mass for a priest from Youngstown while in the seminary; that brought me to Mahoning County.

That brings me to 26 counties, prior to my recent efforts, which I will begin filling in with a subsequent post.

EDIT: No, I forgot to account for all the "drive through" counties, which I'll do quickly. Accounting for the various places I've driven to in Ohio, that means I've passed through:

Hancock -- home of Findlay, Ohio and Marathon Oil. I must have gotten gas here at some point, driving up I-75, but no memory of it.
Clinton -- it's on the way to too many places I've been; I had to drive through!
Highland -- I've driven through here on U.S. 50, heading to Virginia when I used to live there.
Adams -- There's a village of Seaman here; I got a speeding here once; I remember that!
Pike -- Also along U.S. 50/S.R. 32.
Vinton -- Again, along U.S. 50/S.R. 32.
Jackson -- Still part of the S.R. 32 story...
Meigs -- S.R. 32 gets a little corner of this county.
Washington -- I'm pretty sure I've gotten out of the car in Belpre, as I passed through there many times when I lived in Virginia and drove back and forth to Cincinnati; and after I moved back to the Queen City, and returned to Virginia.
Ross -- Both U.S. 50 and U.S. 23 intersect here, so I've got it covered both ways.
Lawrence -- I passed through Ironton one time.
Union -- U.S. 33 passes through; I know I've driven this route to or from Columbus.

Scioto -- at some point I drove north from Portsmouth, but I don't recall when.
Madison -- I have passed through here on the way to Columbus along S.R. 161, through Plain City.
Fayette -- Interstate 71; lots of times back and forth.
Delaware -- I-71.
Morrow -- I-71.
Richland -- I-71.
Ashland -- I-71.
Wayne -- I-71.
Medina -- I-71.

Licking -- Interstate 70.
Guernsey -- I-70.
Belmont -- I-70.

Summit -- Interstate 76 to Youngstown.
Portage -- I-76.
Lake -- Interstate 90, I'm pretty sure I drove through here at some point, but I don't know when.
Ashtabula -- I-90.

And that brings me to 56 counties, visited or driven through. But wait, there's more! In my next post, I'll describe some travels in the past week or so.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

America is becoming Sodom: what do we do? (Sunday homily)

The first reading mentions the “sin of Sodom,” so let’s start there. 
This doesn’t come up very often, and no one likes to talk about it,
but we need to talk about this subject.
Lots of Catholics really don’t know what Christ teaches 
about these things; and many who think they do, actually don’t.  

I’ll deal with this delicately, but that means you have to pay 
closer attention, to get what my “work arounds” mean; OK?

“The sin of Sodom” – or, sodomy – refers to several things, 
all of which involve people misusing God’s gift of sex, 
rejecting his plan for sex.

Without going into detail, there are a number of ways 
a man and a woman can do this; and also, two men or two women. 
These various sins have always been termed “unnatural,” 
for several reasons; one of which is that they deliberately exclude 
the transmission of new life. 

But I do want to underline this point: this is about 
more than what happens between two men or two women.

This sin is one of four that Scripture tells us “cry out to heaven” 
for judgment. The others are murder, oppressing the poor, 
and defrauding a worker of his wages.

As we recall from Scripture, when God’s angels entered Sodom, 
they were accosted by the men of the city, 
who sought to force themselves on the visitors.

The people of Sodom were possessed by lust, 
which inevitably includes violence; because if you want what you want, 
and you absolutely must have it, 
you will engage in all manner of rationales and excuses.

Here’s why I think we have to talk about this.
Our beloved country is well on the way to becoming Sodom.
It didn’t start with rainbow flags and alternative lifestyles; 
what we’re seeing now is simply a mature stage of the evolution.

Our process of becoming Sodom began decades ago, 
When contraception became acceptable; 
when marriage became optional; 
when children became disposable
blasphemy on TV became normal,
and obscenity spread everywhere on the Internet.

Forgive me, but I think a lot of folks haven’t a clue 
how bad things are already. And a lot of us don’t WANT to know.

I write about some of these things in the bulletin,
And grumbling comes back – “why does he talk about that?”
The answer is because online filth is damaging people’s lives!
Not somewhere else – right here in Russia.
And I’m talking about teenagers; kids.

Parents, I know that cell phones are wonderful tools,
but realize that unless you are constantly vigilant,
the absolute worst of everything is only one click away.

There isn’t time to talk about all the lies that are being told; 
pounded relentlessly into our heads and our kids’ heads.

One lie is that all these perversions are normal,
Because we’re really just animals and we can’t help it.
Another is that if you surrender to impulse, you will be happy.
A third lie is that what matters most is to get what you want.
Yet another is the idea that just because you have some feelings, 
that fact defines who you are. Our society sorts and labels people, 
“gay,” “straight,” “bi,” “trans” – with new categories every day.

So if you feel something, you get a label slapped on you, defining you.
“This is who you are,” people say. 
“This is how you are supposed to act and believe.
Hold still while we shove you into this box.”
Does that sound like “liberation”?

People we know feel attracted to the same sex. What do they do?
First, forget all these categories and labels. You are a child of God!

God created you and all of us male and female;
And you are made in his image and likeness.
That is your identity. 
Do you have a cross to bear? Indeed; so do we all.
You don’t have to carry it alone. Talk to me; I will help you.

The other truth is that happiness comes from what we give, 
not what we get; and if life involves sacrifice and self-denial,
then in that case, you ARE doing it right!

One reason we don’t like to talk about these things 
is many feel powerless. 
Nevertheless, you and I have a voice and we have a vote.
But politicians aren’t going to do the right thing all by themselves;
We have to keep on them.  
And if we pay a price because we are faithful to Christ?
He told us that would happen! 
The Apostles rejoiced to suffer for his Name!

Now let’s talk about main thing in the readings, which is prayer.

There is a mystery to prayer that I really can’t explain, but here it is: 
God frequently will unlock graces and gifts only after we pray.
And by “pray,” I mean more than once or twice. I mean, over and over.

We all know about Fatima: During the first World War,
Mary was sent to three children in Portugal.
She gave them many messages, 
including a prediction that a worse war was coming, 
that would bring terrible suffering for the whole world.

But here’s what people forget: 
Mary’s request for the pope to consecrate Russia to her heart,
And for all of us to offer reparation, was offered as a way 
to prevent that next war and all that would follow!

Get that? If we had done what Mary asked, back in 1917,
No Second World War! Perhaps no Cold War! Isn’t that astounding?
That is what Mary told those children.

As we know, eventually Pope John Paul II 
did consecrate Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
That happened in 1985, and remarkable things began to happen,
with the Cold War coming to an end without a shot being fired.

Sister Lucia, the third visionary of Fatima, 
has said that the “Fatima week” isn’t over yet. 
It seems like things are still unfolding.

Which way is our country and our world headed? 
That is not for us to know, and you and I can only do so much.
But praying to our good God lies entirely in our power!
You and I have a direct line, and it’s never disconnected.

Like Abraham, intercede for those who are deep in sin.
Like Jesus taught us, pray and be insistent in prayer.

We all know the Church needs more holiness. 
Much more boldness in our leaders. What can you and I do?
We can pray for the pope and our bishops;
We can offer penances and sacrifices;
You and I can make the Church more holy – beginning with ourselves.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Project 88: Progress so far...

First, I'm a little frustrated that I can't show you the spiffy map I laboriously created, showing all 63 counties I've visited or passed through. I have it as a PDF, and I can't figure out how to upload that to Blogger. If anyone has a suggestion, let me know in the comments.

At any rate, I thought it would be fun to have pictures representing at least some of the counties, and that means backtracking to the counties visited long ago. Let's start here:

That's a Google Map of Clifton, a neighborhood in the city of Cincinnati. I was born in Cincinnati and this is where I grew up. If you zoom in, you will see the parish I went to, my elementary school, Skyline, Burnet Woods Park, and lots more. A lot has changed since those days, but a lot is the same. So there's Hamilton County.

Just north of Hamilton is Butler County, another place I've visited so many times I can't count. As a kid we'd go up to LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park, which is now gone.  I'm going to be down that way on Monday, and I hope to stop here: Jungle Jim's is not just a store, not just an "international market," it is an experience and maybe my favorite place in Butler County.

East of Hamilton is Clermont County. I remember driving way, way, way out to Clermont when my sister lived there with her first two children. It seemed to be all country then. Next to the east is Brown County. I really can't remember visiting, but I'm thinking I'd have to have; maybe I'm wrong, but it's my project, so there.

I'm on solid ground when it comes to Warren County, if only because I've done this. I'd like to go back, even though I know I'll get beat up. Montgomery County is where Dayton is, lots of activity there; plus I was happy to be assigned to St. Albert the Great Parish, as a new priest, for two years. Here's St. Albert:

To the east of Montgomery is Greene County, where I've visited many times, including offering Mass at St. Brigid's Parish in Xenia. You may recall that Xenia was devastated by a 1974 tornado; that included destroying the original St. Brigid Church, which looked like this:

North of Greene is Clark County. Both named for Revolutionary War heroes, by the way. My sister and her husband live here, and my dad spent his last few years staying with them. Lots of people go to Yellow Springs -- a kind of hippie hangout -- where you'll find Young's Dairy.

West of Montgomery is Preble County, (around here we pronounce it "PREH-ble," rhyming with "rebel") which I had marked on my calendar as one I've only driven through. I couldn't remember any visits, but then I recalled our family going to Hueston Woods. When I drive back from Cincinnati on Monday, I'll make a point to stop and see something more there. And if you didn't click through to the Wikipedia article, you may not know Edward Preble is yet another Revolutionary War hero; a naval officer.

Well, just that quick I've ticked off nine counties, only 79 to go.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

'Project 88': my plan to visit every corner of Ohio

I'm not sure exactly the moment, but the idea hit me sometime in the last two weeks. Maybe it was the beautiful Friday afternoon when I decided to drive up to Carthagena and visit a priest who is recovering from surgery, and then make a trip over to Wapakoneta, the birthplace of Neil Armstrong, whose landing on the moon had happened 50 years ago Saturday. But at some point I started thinking about all the places I'd been to, or driven through, in my home state. I began wondering: of the 88 counties, how many can I came to have been to? In my own quick surmise, I decided it must be 60 or more.

And then came the happy thought: why not make the attempt to visit each county in Ohio? Not just to say I've done it, but to see some of the notable things in my home state: such as the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapak, which I'd never visited?

So Monday of last week, when I headed to Wheeling, W.V. for a priest conference, I decided to make a fuller day of the drive and make a couple of stops. The first was in West Liberty: Ohio Caverns; the second was to see Lock 10 of an old canal beside the Muskingum River in Zanesville.

Then this past Monday, I continued working out my ideas on this. I decided to call it "Project 88." I created a map, the old-fashioned way: I found a simple map of Ohio counties, printed it off, and colored in the counties where I've either lived or visited, and also those I've driven through. I was going to reproduce it here, but I'm not figuring it out right now, so I'm going to save that for another day. But it turns out I've visited 32 counties -- meaning, I've gotten out of the car at least -- and I've driven through 31; that leaves 25. And truth to tell, I've certainly driven through some of those, but I simply don't remember; so for purposes of Project 88, until I find out otherwise, they are terra incognita.

Now, someone may scoff at the value of having "driven through" a county; but why? I grant you there's driving through, and there's driving through! When I'm on the interstate, I'm usually trying to get through as fast as possible. So, for instance, my interstate driving-through encompasses 14 counties. But for the other 17, I've driven through on state or local roads; and that really is a kind of visiting, even if it's not the same as walking into a courthouse, touring caves, eating in a restaurant, or visiting someone's home.

At any case, I am going to make an effort to upgrade those "driven throughs" to "visited," and I've already worked up some itineraries for the near term. I haven't set a timetable for this project yet. Part of me says, why set a timetable? Just let it happen over time; other part of me says, without any sort of specific goals, I'm more likely to fail at this. At any rate, I am going to think about what would be reasonable. As you might guess, the never-visited counties are mostly far away, so visiting them may involve several overnight trips or even a week of vacation, which is a lot more of a commitment than several day trips, which I think can easily knock off about a dozen of them.

The main thing is to be fun. And it will give me fodder for this frequently neglected blog. So if events don't conspire against me, I hope to add a post soon about my jaunt last Monday up into the northwest corner of Ohio, which netted me five more counties visited, and two more driven through. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

NCR's Father Daly fixes the priesthood: less Cross, more sex!

On July 15, Father Peter Daly, a retired pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, penned an article for the National Catholic Reporter (sic) with the astonishing headline, “The priesthood is being crucified on the cross of celibacy.” Well, that sounds just terrible, doesn't it? The priesthood being associated with the Cross! Wherever might the Church have gotten such an idea? Father Daly can't figure it out.

Upon reflection, I'm not surprised that Father Daly and his beloved N"C"R can't fathom a priesthood associated with the Cross; they find it scandalous for the life of any Christian to be cruciform, at least as pertains to sex and desire. Chastity? No contraception? Sex only in marriage -- once -- between a man and a woman? Horrors!

Father followed up his first effort with another column a week later, but it is more of the same fallacies, non-sequiturs and evidence-free assertions. What a mess! Let’s take a look at the first article.

We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite.

Why not? The Latin Rite has maintained the rule of celibacy for nigh on to 2,000 years. Does Father Daly believe the priesthood has been wanting all those centuries? That’s quite an assertion for him to make. Evidence?

Why would that improve the priesthood? It would make priests more honest about ourselves and sexuality.

What evidence does Father Daly have that married men are more “honest” than unmarried men?

With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse. (Does anybody really think that if bishops were also real fathers that they would have covered up so much child abuse?)

Father Daly has the nub of a point here: it is true that bishops failed to be true fathers. But then, so did the fathers who molested. But then, fathers who are married also molest. Is Daly subscribing to the argument that unless you have a personal experience with a problem, you can’t effectively oppose that problem? So the only cancer doctors worth seeing are those who have cancer? Apparently Father Daly believes empathy is too much to expect.

With husbands in the priesthood, it would make us more respectful of women and their opinions. Married priests would also break up the "old boys" clique that surrounds clerical culture in seminaries and chancery offices.

Optional celibacy would also substantially expand the pool of potential candidates for the priesthood. It would not only increase our numbers but improve our quality.

Evidence? Evidence? Oh, there I go again!

Let’s deal with the “substantially” expanded pool of potential candidates.

First, here’s something Father Daly knows, but doesn’t bother spelling out: in all the history of the Church, east and west, where priests were married, they were married prior to ordination. Could that change? Let’s just say it’s highly dubious and contentious. Meanwhile, there is the ecumenical problem. In recent decades, the Roman Church has gone to great lengths to tell our Eastern brethren that we’re mighty sorry for not consulting them in the past before making major changes. Father Daly is scrapping ecumenism now?

But let’s imagine Rome announces this new policy: you can be married and ordained, but you must marry first. Immediately, every youngish man giving the priesthood a look will be immediately relieved: no need to enter the seminary now; in fact, if I’m ever going to be a priest, my first job is to get married!

Goodbye, young seminarians! We’ll see you in 30 years!

Yes, 30 years! Imagine a fellow named “Peter.” He feels called to the priesthood, but he listens to the pope and gets cracking on marriage first, tying the knot at 24. He and his wife start having children two years later. Say they have four kids, about two years apart. When his youngest arrives, he’s 34; when that child graduates college, Peter is 56; now he enters seminary. (Based on what candidates for the permanent diaconate actually do, now, this is realistic.)

Seminary training now involves at least two years of “pre-theology,” involving lots of philosophy and some spirituality and Biblical languages, followed by four years heavy with theology, Scripture, canon law, pastoral training, preaching, and other things. Many dioceses and orders require an additional year of internship, as well as summers in various ministry activities.

If we pinch and tuck, maybe that seven years of full time preparation can be squeezed into ten years of part-time work by Peter: with no hiccups, he’ll be ready for priestly duty at 66 years of age. Psst: some priests have already retired by then, and most are preparing to retire at 70. Regardless of good intentions, actuarial tables don’t lie. Just how many years will Father Peter give to parish work, as opposed to travelling with his wife to visit his grandchildren?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have this new priest; and he'll certainly bring great gifts. But based on his likely years of service, we’ll need at least six more late-in-life vocations for each of the young guys who forego the seminary to marry -- and that's just to tread water! In order to really fix the dearth of vocations requires not six, but probably 18 such mature vocations. Father Daly guarantees such a flood.

One more time, evidence? We have no such flood of candidates to be permanent deacons, which involves a less rigorous (yet still demanding and time-consuming) training regimen. Do Eastern Rites -- long unhindered by the celibacy rule -- already enjoy such abundant vocations?

The Holy Spirit has been trying to tell us to abolish celibacy for the last 50 years, but we are not listening.

Funny thing: I’ve never met anyone claiming to know what the Holy Spirit “is telling us,” whose message from on high didn't exactly match that person's own preferences.

Here's one snippet from the second offering, which gives as much "flavor" as this insipid dish can afford:

Celibacy is not essential to holiness....Celibacy is not essential to Catholic priesthood. Kudos to Father Daly for absolutely destroying those straw men!

I trust Father Daly is a capable man, but not on the basis of this argument.

Meanwhile, I have a book given me at a conference last week entitled, Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest by Father Carter Griffin. Just leafing through it, Father Griffin talks about Scripture, tradition, the teaching of Church fathers, and the examples of the saints, Joseph and Mary among them. I wonder why Father Daly didn't have anything to say about any of that?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

God's urgent invitation (Sunday homily)

The Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev. You can watch this strange movie, or read about him here.

Notice in the first reading: God came to a meal. Why would he do that?
This was about friendship: 
enabling Sarah and Abraham to experience friendship with God.
“Friendship with God”: isn’t that a stunning thing to say?

Yes, it is! But that is why Jesus came; 
Friendship with God is our destination.

God comes to a meal in the Gospel, too.
Martha is all worked up about it, and she complains, make Mary help me!
Martha is right in one aspect: 
what an honor it is to have the Lord visit her house!

Would that more Catholics would recognize that.
What an honor that Jesus comes to be with us!
This is why we genuflect, if we are able.
More important is the disposition you and I bring to Mass.
One of the ways we express our attitude is in our clothing.
This is a minefield, so I want to be very measured here.

Not everyone has nice things to wear.
Some people have to come straight from work, or go immediately there.
Life can be complicated.
It can be a struggle just to get the family together.
When I was little, my mom would get me ready for Mass,
and then go do other things, warning me to stay put.
I didn’t listen! Sorry, mom!

Without pushing too far, I want to pose this question:
when you present yourself before the Lord, are you making an effort? 
Yes, I know it’s hot. You think I don’t know? 
I am wearing more clothes here than anybody;
I’d much rather be in shorts and a golf shirt and flip-flops.
Would that be acceptable? To offer Mass that way?

Oh? Do you think you are merely a spectator here?
That your presence isn’t awfully important?
Yes, I’m a priest, and my role is unique;
But you are a member of Christ’s body – aren’t you?

Let’s go back to Martha and her complaint, 
Because that leads to my second observation.
Not only did God come to a meal; he came to give a meal.
This is the “better part” Mary has chosen: to let Jesus feed her.
That isn’t only for Mary; Martha was welcome too. So are you and me.

This is why, coming to Holy Mass, it helps 
to read the Scriptures ahead of time, and if possible, 
have time before to calm down and recollect.
Now, parents with young children, what I just said wasn’t aimed at you! 
I’m glad you’re here! I know how hard it can be, and Jesus knows too.
Just keep coming and do your best! Jesus will take care of it.

If the Martha in you is saying, “but who’s going to fix dinner?”
Can’t you just see Jesus wink and say, “Oh, I think I can handle that!”

This is still about friendship with Jesus. That’s what he longs for.
And there is no short-cut. 
Friends only become friends because they talk to each other, 
they spend time with each other, and they love the same things.

Martha wanted to “do” for Jesus. Admirable.
But do you think you and I will go to heaven because of what we DO?
Because of good works, giving money, following the rules?
Remember what Jesus told us:
Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven;
They’ll say, didn’t we prophesy and do good works in your name?
“Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’”

These things matter after and only because we are friends with him.
He wants to know you; and for you to know him. 

You might say, I don’t know how to be friends with God.
I’ll say it once more: friends talk to each other; 
they spend time together, and they love the same things.
So: talk to Him, spend time with Him, and love what he loves.

Here’s good news: the Holy Spirit, 
already in you through baptism and confirmation, is Love, 
and he will help you love the Father and the Son. 
Ask him, again and again and again.
This, I believe absolutely, is a prayer God cannot and will not refuse!

So: God came to a meal; God came to give a meal;
And God is himself the meal!

Of course that makes us think of the Eucharist, and that’s right;
but not in isolation. Never in isolation. At best, this is sterile.
At worst, this is a grave sin and an abomination.

What do I mean by this?
I mean that Mass is a lot more than just receiving Holy Communion. 
And our life as Christians is about more than Sunday Mass.
It’s all connected.

It’s kind of like thinking about the tabernacle – see the tabernacle? – 
without the altar, where the sacrifice takes place; 
and the rest of the church around it, this holy place, 
where holy people led by a holy priest, gather for that sacrifice;
which Jesus himself offers, of himself, on this very altar!

It’s not just Christ and this church that are holy;
The priest must be holy. I am a sinner; so I go to confession.
Holiness, above all, is not primarily about how we behave,
but first and most important, it is about union with God:
everything else flows from that union with him.

So I go to confession because I fail in my friendship;
but my Friend, the Lord Jesus, 
is so good to me that he eagerly forgives me 
and helps me become the friend I want to be.

Your participation in this sacrifice requires you to be holy, too.
You might say, I’m not doing so great on that.
Well, receiving our Eucharistic Lord is itself the remedy for venial sins.
When friends spend time together, they grow in friendship.

Now, if you are conscious of a mortal sin, then go first to confession.
When a friend has sinned gravely against a friend, 
you don’t pretend as if nothing happened: 
you own up and you ask to be reconciled.

To recap: God came to a meal; God gives a meal; God IS the meal.
He came to give himself, to unite us to him, forever.

This last week I was at a conference with Dr. Scott Hahn.
And he made a striking point. 
He described doing a Bible study 
on all the times the New Testament talked about 
the consequences of refusing Christ’s invitation. 
In his own words, he was “stunned” when he took in, all at once,
All the things Jesus said about what happens to those who refuse him.

Such as? Well, how about “He who believes and is baptized 
will be saved; but he who believes not will be damned.”
Or when he spoke about the house built on a rock – that is, Himself! – 
versus the house without Christ, built on sand:
“And great is the fall of that house,” Jesus warned.
Or what I quoted earlier: “Depart from me, I never knew you!”
Or recall the sheep and the goats: depart from me, you accursed!”

I could go on. The point is, everything hangs on this invitation:
Come to me, Jesus says. He comes to you. He wants to be with you.
He offers himself to you and to me.
Don’t leave church today without accepting, or renewing, his friendship.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Start with the person right in front of you (Sunday homily)

Sometimes the Scripture readings are pretty darn clear. Too clear. 
We see plainly what they are saying, 
but we don’t like what they are saying.

So it is with today’s Gospel. “Who is my neighbor?”
You and I know darn well what Jesus’ answer is. 
It is as plain as day. 
We know exactly what he’s saying, don’t we?
Does this really need to be explained?

It’s like this. If you are wondering, 
“what about that person? Or that person? 
But surely, not that person over there?”
You already know the answer, don’t you?
Of course you do! We all do.

Jesus died for absolutely everyone, no exceptions.
He considers everyone his neighbor.
So the rule is: go and do likewise.

The figuring-out part isn’t hard; we’re all there already.
What’s hard is the doing it. The will to do it: the “want to.”
And I can’t really supply that for you.
You know what Jesus wants. You know what he himself did.
And you know, in the depths of your heart, 
what sort of person you truly want to be. Me too.

Only the Holy Spirit – at your request – can supply the “want to.”
And by that I mean, to want it enough 
that you go beyond just thinking about it, and actually DO something.

Now, here’s a detail from the Gospel that didn’t strike me right away.
We often think about the call to be neighborly, to be generous, 
to share our faith, 
in terms of going out here and there and everywhere.
And Jesus has told us to do exactly that on other occasions.

But notice in this Gospel, there is no need to go searching.
The person who needs help is right there on the path.
The priest and Levite didn’t need to go even one step out of their way.
In fact, they had to go out of their way to avoid helping the man.

So here’s the point. Maybe you’re wondering, 
do I need to go on a mission trip? 
Should I go sign up at the soup kitchen in Sidney or Piqua? 
To help out with Rustic Hope or the women’s shelter? 
Am I supposed to volunteer in Dayton?

Those are all great things to do.

But a good start is to be exactly like the Samaritan:
Be generous with the person who God puts right in your path.
You don’t have to go hunting around. 

Just start with that. 
Be daring today, and tell Jesus that you’ll do at least that much.