Sunday, September 29, 2019

Do more for the poor (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is pretty clear in what it tells us 
about God’s expectations about how we respond to the needs 
of those who are poor and suffering.

The question of how we care for the poorest and neediest – 
for all the Lazaruses around us – has a pretty wide application. 

Our parish St. Vincent de Paul group 
is sponsoring a food drive, for example. Obvious application.

And in terms of those who are poor and abandoned, 
how can anyone with a conscience 
not see how this applies in the case of legal abortion? 
Of course I mean the unborn child, 
who is completely abandoned. 
So many treat the unborn child 
the way the rich man treated Lazarus – 
as if he didn’t even exist. 

But I also mean the women and others involved.
There is so much cruelty and exploitation at work!
It’s a cruel joke to use the term “choice,” 
because so often, women and girls are pressured, 
and threatened, and manipulated, into getting abortions. 

Thank God for the work of the Elizabeth New Life Center,
And for Rustic Hope, both in our community, 
providing help to women and their children. 
And there are so many more doing the same thing across the nation.

What they do is the exact opposite of what the Gospel describes. 
They are seeking out all the Lazaruses as they can, 
and binding up their wounds, and getting them back on their feet. 

But let me offer another application. Let’s talk about immigration. 
This is a big subject, 
and I’m not going to get into the details of public policy. 
I have my opinions; you have yours. Maybe we agree.
But that isn’t what a homily is for.

Rather, I just want to ask you 
to look at the immigration situation through the lens of this Gospel.
Our bishops have said, repeatedly, 
that it’s absolutely legitimate for countries 
to control their borders and for people to obey the law. 
But what’s also important is to have compassion 
and to respect every person’s dignity, 
including people who are illegal immigrants, who have broken the law.

It’s so frustrating, because obviously there are grave problems 
in the countries where these families are coming from.

Our country can’t solve the world’s problems,
but we aren’t powerless; we can do something.
It would be great if we talked more about that,
Instead of the constant yelling and finger-pointing.
Of course, politicians are going to do what they do!

Your job and mine are to be a Catholic voice; 
and since we’re citizens and we can vote, 
the politicians will listen if enough of us speak up.

Meanwhile, there are people very close to home who need help.
If you go to Sidney, Greeneville, Piqua, Troy or Dayton, 
the realities are very obvious.
But don’t kid yourself; there are people in trouble right here, 
but it may be a little less obvious. 

Once again, our St. Vincent de Paul group fields a lot of requests 
for help with utility bills and rent and groceries –
and our local group RACK does similar things – 
But it’s all mostly hidden.

Groceries, electricity, heat, these help!
Even better, however, is a human connection.
So often these needs happen in situations of chaos,
And there are children involved, and they need more than material things. 
There is a need for compassion and patience and love.
To cite something Pope Francis often talks about:
A need to accompany people in their lives.

So what are our action steps from this homily?
I invite you to support the organizations I’ve mentioned already, 
plus I think of New Choices, a shelter for women in Sidney, 
also the Holy Angels Soup Kitchen, the Bethany Center in Piqua, 
the St. Vincent shelter in Dayton – they can all use help.
Whether with money or time, if you can, think about doing more.

And you should also know, by the way, 
that when you put a contribution in the “for the needy” envelope, 
we help many of these organizations.

And, again, regarding our own community here:
Be a good neighbor. Be the friend someone in trouble can call;
So that your kitchen can be where a neighbor can come to talk.

Recently I took a trip over to Holmes County,
Where there are so many Amish, 
just like there are similar folks who live around Covington.
When they get in trouble, they don’t go to the government.
They take care of each other. 
Here in Russia, we do a lot of that, too.
Let’s do more.

In the prayer I offered near the beginning of Mass, 
we asked that God make us “heirs to the treasures of heaven.”

Don’t forget that God sees whether we go out of our way 
to bring others to share in his treasures. 
You and I aren’t going to solve all the problems; we don’t have to.
God only asks that we remember the Lazaruses around us,
And show them compassion and mercy.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Recent films: I'm 0-for-2 (Review of 'First Reformed')


Last night I watched First Reformed, a 2017 film with Ethan Hawke about a Protestant minister who pastors a dwindling congregation in a very old church in New England.

The winter is bleak and so is everything else. The world is going to hell, and it just so happens that the head of a local manufacturer, who is also a major benefactor of the congregation and everything else in town, is driving the world to hell with copious pollution. And our hero, such as he is, is 47 and apparently has never thought about pollution or climate change or any of the implications of any of it, until he meets a suicidal environmental activist, who actually prepared a "suicide vest," meaning he might well have intended to blow himself up and take something, or someone, else with him.

Our hero is writing a diary. If you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that this story is based on The Diary of a Country Priest, which is a film I'd like to see, but I can't find it anywhere to rent, only to buy. Why change it from Catholic to Protestant? It creates some odd situations. For example, instead of this sad-sack parson being sent here by the bishop, he is sent here by the pastor of a local megachurch. The idea being that First Reformed clapboard church is a wholly owned subsidiary of Abundant Life Megachurch. Possible, but a little strained. If Rev. Toller (Hawke's character) is worth hiring, why have him conduct Sunday services at First Reformed that draw about five people? Why not just use the small church for special events? By the end, the rationale for the change becomes clear, I think.

The bigger question is why Hawke is so messed up. He has serious health issues he doesn't take seriously until the end. Why? Is he depressed? If so, it would most likely be because he lost his own son in the Iraq War, and his marriage fell apart. Sound reasonable, except I have to ask: why did the pastor of the Megachurch fail to know about any of this, or take any interest? He has Hawke taking part in youth group activities; wouldn't you want to be sure this assistant pastor is emotionally healthy?

Hawke unravels through the movie -- that's a perfectly interesting story, but again, I think the way the story is told makes it implausible, as opposed to a parish priest being far, far away from the bishop. Hawke's growing obsession with environmentalism only makes sense as a manifestation of his mental collapse, which is a very interesting commentary on the environmental movement!

Eventually, Hawke has some weird and improper interactions with the activist's widow. Several people have unrealistic overreactions, which are annoying when the story depends on them. Toward the end, Hawke still has the suicide vest -- he took it from the man's house to keep him from using it, and was supposed to destroy it; instead, he finishes it and is going to use it at the big celebration orchestrated by the villain, such as he is, the industrialist. Only he's a really nice industrialist, and you have to wonder if he's even as bad as our mentally unbalanced hero thinks he is. But instead of killing everyone, Hawke wraps barbed wire around his bare torso, then dons vestments, then the widow shows up, she hugs him even though blood is seeping through -- can't she feel the barbs through his clothes? -- and they kiss madly. The End.

What's the point? Which part of Rev. Toller's life drives him mad? Is this a comment on celibacy, inasmuch as he is kind of living a celibate life -- he cruelly rejects the interest of a female coworker -- but when he surrenders to his passion for the widow, he's cured?

The film is pretty enough, if you like that sort of thing. This reminds me of so much literature that you read, you shake your head, and then supercilious people give you the sad side-eye. Could it be that it's just not that good, and you're a sucker for gorgeous mediocrity?

Feel free to defend this movie: it's very possible I really am missing something.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Brad Pitt's 'Ad Astra' -- not per aspera, but ineptia

Yesterday, instead of making another exploration of Ohio, I went to a movie. Ad Astra, with Brad Pitt, looked promising. A space flick? Brad Pitt? What could go wrong? Oh my...


Let me get this out of the way up front: after seeing the movie, I looked up what the reviews said, and many said, well, this isn't really a sci-fi pic, but about relationships. OK, fine; but that isn't why I am ragging this film.

I am trashing this film because it is ridiculous. The plot makes no sense.

If you enjoy me shredding this picture, read on. If you want a "too long, didn't read" summary, here it is:

And I am not talking about minor things. Lots of films have little errors or illogicalities, but I can overlook a certain number of these because they just serve to speed things along or tell the story in a more interesting way. So, for example, at one point the Pitt character sends a message to his father on a ship presumed to be orbiting Neptune. He speaks into a microphone, and then everyone expects an immediate answer. This is dopey, of course.

Even with the special laser referred to in the movie, the message would take four hours to travel that far, and another four hours for any response (assuming dad has the same special laser). But OK, having everyone wait all that time only makes the story a little more tedious. Similar points could be made about the gravity on Mars and our moon apparently being just like earth -- except when it's not, as in the pirates on the moon chasing Pitt and his party as they head for the far side of the moon. But I was thinking, OK, maybe they wear heavy shoes inside to compensate for low gravity, and they don't want to spend time explaining all that.

No, the problems boil down to a very simple matter: the whole story is junk. Here it is: Brad Pitt plays a highly decorated member of U.S. Space Command, who has performed exceptionally in many tasks. His age isn't spelled out in the film, but he would seem to be in his 40s. We meet him as he plummets from a orbital telescope array to earth, and manages to deploy his parachute and land safely. The fall was prompted by sudden explosions, which we learn were caused by some sort of electrical storm emanating from out near Neptune. This phenomenon keeps happening, causing grave damage all over earth, and -- of course -- if it can't be stopped, the planet is doomed.

OK, this itself seems pretty sketchy, although I didn't realize the problem; it was one of the reviewers who pointed this out: how does this ship billions of miles away cause such awful damage, and yet itself isn't wrecked? See that? That's an oops that is completely fatal to the whole story. But wait! There's more!

The higher-ups seek out Pitt because they think his dad (who is on the ship out Neptune way) has gone around the bend, and they hope Pitt can help them convince his father to stop messing with the solar system. This briefing, by the way, is when Pitt finds out his dad is actually alive! He hadn't seen him since he took off on this mission 30 years earlier, and assumed his father was dead. Which raises yet another huge problem: how, exactly, has dad survived all this time while orbiting Neptune? Let's just skip over the problem of oxygen and water, assuming they have the means to recycle all that for decades. And we'll assume the Neptune ship has shielding from radiation that we don't have now. What about food? We'll come back to this in a moment.

So here's what the higher-ups ask Pitt to do. He takes a commercial flight to the moon (that sequence, along with the opening sequence, was fun to watch, especially when we see Applebees and DHL with outlets on the moon!); there he is supposed to go to a base on the dark side, and fly to Mars. On Mars, he will access the special space laser thingabob in order to attempt contact with dad...

Only, why does he need to go to Mars to do this? They can't do this from earth? Even if the message must be sent from Mars, why can't he relay the message from earth to Mars? None of this makes any sense! Why this huge expense and risk? More than that, why the delay? It takes 17 days or so to get to Mars; a lot of catastrophes on earth can happen in that time.

Of course, cutting all that out means we don't get to see the moon pirates come out of nowhere and attempt to kill? Or kidnap? Pitt and his party. Except, Pitt was warned this might happen, so they took along a few extra space Marines. Of course they didn't send enough protection (why not?), so it was all touch-and-go, and Pitt just barely makes it safely to the base. By the way, why -- if the moon is such a dangerous place to travel, with wars and piracy here and there -- aren't people traveling in something better than open buggies? It makes no sense. Moving on...

Now Pitt is on a ship to Mars, only his mission is top secret; so when the captain of the ship slows down to answer a distress call from a ship floating somewhere between Earth and Mars -- why, by the way? Why there? We're told it is some sort of science ship; fine. But what demand of science requires that ship to be soooooo very far away from the nearest civilization? Why would anyone think this was a good idea? Stupid, stupid, stupid...

Oh, it gets worse still! Pitt doesn't want to stop -- "anyone can answer that distress call!" (Really? There's that much traffic between Earth and Mars?) But the captain insists. Then when they stop, the distress call goes away and no one is responding on the science ship. If I recall correctly, there were 20 or so people on board. Hmm, who doesn't like some mystery? So now the trip to the ship-in-distress is more perilous and the two officers on board are now worried (why? Aren't they trained for this sort of thing?) and so Pitt goes with the captain, and the second-in-command remains behind.

We get to the science ship and find...nothing. No one. Creepy. Mystery builds...then Pitt comes face to face with an enraged baboon, doing nasty things to the captain's arm and face. Pitt knocks out (or kills) the baboon, seals up the captain's damaged suit with tape, and as he starts to take him back to the other ship, another baboon -- just as ragey! -- appears! Pitt is able to close the hatch between himself and the space monkey, and decompress the chamber, and we see a sudden explosion of monkey guts all over the other side of the hatch window. (Except that wouldn't happen; the baboon would asphyxiate, not explode.)

Pitt brings the badly injured captain back aboard the original ship, where he dies. And...nothing more about the disabled science ship. Apparently the problem was the baboons getting loose, and apparently, the baboons kill everybody. And this diversion means absolutely nothing to the overall story, other than setting up the scene where they attempt a landing on Mars, only to have another power surge from Neptune mess up the automated landing gizmo, and the second-in-command loses his nerve, forcing Pitt to do the landing manually. Then Pitt tells the badly shaken second-in-command, "I won't report this to Space Command." What??? As if the others on board are all going to keep it secret? As if there won't be a debriefing about what happened? They are all going to lie? To protect this sad-sack lieutenant who lost his nerve twice on this mission? Oh, and here I might mention that Pitt undergoes repeated psychological evaluations with an automated computer program. This seems to be Standard Operating Procedure, given the stresses of service in space. This makes no sense! But I repeat myself.

Hang on, you ain't heard nothing yet...

Now on Mars, and his mission still highly secret, Pitt is greeted by the base commander, played by Ruth Negga, who unfortunately lacks sufficient security clearance; so immediately, some other guy takes over. This matters later. Now Pitt is taken to a soundproof room to send his message. This itself seems ridiculous -- why soundproof? -- but let's hasten to the next utterly absurd part. After his first try sending the pre-approved script, he makes a second attempt, but improvises the message. The folks in the control room show obvious consternation, but they send the message all the same. Their facial reactions suggest they got some sort of response, but won't confirm this for Pitt, who is mysteriously ushered from the room, and told he is no longer needed. He fails his next psych eval -- the idea being that where he had been cool and detached all this time, he feels sudden longing for his father. OK, I'll go with that. That's a nice touch, really (and obviously, this whole father-son thing is the main story here).

What happens next is galactically stupid. Remember the woman who runs the facility, but who lacks security clearance? She seeks out Pitt, who is in a "comfort" room viewing images of daisies trying to calm down, and reveals to him yet more about his father. She has a recorded distress message from the Neptune ship -- lots of garbled screaming -- followed by a yet-more-creepy dad (played by Tommy Lee Jones) explaining that some of the crew mutinied, and he was forced to cut off their life support, and in the process of killing "the guilty," some innocents also died. Then we learn that two of these dead are Negga's parents! What a coincidence!

Negga -- who, remember, lacks sufficient clearance -- reveals to Pitt that a ship is about to launch to Neptune, with the purpose of destroying the ship with Tommy Lee Jones on it. Pitt, of course, is not part of this and -- of course -- not likely to be under any circumstances, but especially now that he's deemed unreliable by Space Command. Pitt says to Negga, "get me on that ship!" (What? How?) The best I can do is get you close to the launch, which she proceeds to do.

Let's stop here: why is she doing this? She just told Pitt that her parents were murdered by his father. Shouldn't he wonder about her motives? But more than that: why in the world would she want Pitt on that ship? Remember, the point of the expedition is to go kill the bad guy. Does she want Pitt to go and save the murderer of her parents? None of this is ever explored. She seems utterly uninterested in what Pitt's plans are, and how they will affect the overall mission.

OK, so she drives him out near the launch, and lets him off near some hatch in the ground, which Pitt opens effortlessly and climbs into; that leads to a large pipe -- but not large enough to walk through easily (why? What is this pipe for? Why wasn't it's entrance locked?) Next he is swimming through dirty water (why is there all this water? On a dry planet?) and he comes up for air just beneath the rocket. We hear the countdown -- 7 minutes and some seconds to go! Pitt climbs up the silo while the rocket warms up; and as the engines fire -- massive fireball! -- Pitt is clinging to the side of the rocket, and manages to open a hatch and slip in. All this happens AFTER the rocket launches! Join me in the refrain: THIS MAKES NO SENSE!

Of course this trips an alarm aboard-ship, and the concerned crew tells ground control about the unsecured latch -- and soon they see Pitt, and they tell ground control that, and ground control tells the crew to neutralize Pitt by any and all means (i.e., they are welcome to kill him). All this is happening while the ship is rocketing out into space! Just before, gravity on Mars looked exactly like Earth's -- now, apparently, Mars has almost no gravity at all.

There are three highly trained members of U.S. Space Command aboard this valuable ship, on a top-secret mission to Neptune, only there was absolutely no security perimeter around this launch; the hatch on this ship is less secure than those on commercial airlines; and now, these highly trained space Marines are completely hapless against Pitt. They all end up dead, and Pitt now flies the ship to Neptune. Cue the refrain: you know it by heart.

There is some business about Pitt inserting a feeding tube for the long voyage, which turns out to be 79 days or something like that. Wait, what? Sure, I buy that they figured out how to travel a whole lot faster; but if Neptune is only 79 days away, why has Tommy Lee Jones and crew been out there, all alone, for 30 years? No one thought to check on him?

Of course, our boy Brad makes it out to Neptune -- no more space monkeys -- only to encounter yet another power surge as he nears dad's ship. The surge seems to do some damage, but it doesn't disable his ship (why not?). I might mention here he's bringing a nuke with him, which is meant to destroy the Neptune ship. What is never explained is how Pitt knows how to arm and detonate the nuke; apparently, there is no secret code required, which secret presumably died with the crew Pitt killed. Or else U.S. Space Command radioed the code to Pitt, because...who the h*** knows?

And, anyway, why a nuke? Wouldn't any explosive do the trick? The plan was to take this bomb aboard the renegade ship. Why? They have lasers that send messages, but they can't shoot anything at the threat? What about a guided missile, fired from thousands of miles away. We had those in the 20th century. What about a drone? I'm betting a drone could have been launched from behind one of Neptune's moons? Does it have moons? Why, yes, it has 14 of them!

Or, here's a crazy idea: why not just knock the ship into Neptune? According to,

Neptune is the third most massive planet. Like the rest of the gas giants, Neptune has no definite surface layer. Instead, the gas transits into a slushy ice and water layer. The water-ammonia ocean serves as the planet's mantle, and contains more than ten times the mass of Earth. Temperatures inside the mantle range from 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,727 degrees Celsius) to 8,540 F (4,727 F). At deep enough depths, the methane may transform into diamond crystals.

Since this ship's unstable antimatter reactor is such a threat to the whole solar system, wouldn't you think blowing it up -- with a nuke! -- would create additional, perhaps unforeseeable risks? Gee, what if you could, instead, shove it into some mass that would absorb the damaging effect, and smother it? Like..."the third most massive planet"? Are you seriously telling me the ship would somehow survive plummeting into Neptune? You know the refrain...

So Pitt gets there, grabs the nuke (about the size of a backpack!), boards a little shuttle that takes him over to the other ship. He carefully pilots the shuttle around the wide rings of Neptune, which are made up of lots and lots of rocks. Remember this detail for later. Only his shuttle can't dock, because of damage to the renegade ship. So Pitt exits the shuttle, opens the hatch, and -- I am not kidding -- pushes away his shuttle! Nope, not going to need that again!

Only he does. We learn shortly that he intends to bring dad home. Whenever needed, Pitt has a tether; he uses one several times. There's no tether on the shuttle? He couldn't go back to his mother ship for one? What exactly is his plan for getting back? Wait till you find out...

He gets on board, everything is eerily silent. He finds the reactor -- apparently it is entirely safe to approach, even though it is wrecking the solar system with unpredictable bursts (yet another reason this whole plan was idiotic, but oh well...). He gets the nuke all ready to go off in three hours, but doesn't turn it on. His plan, it turns out, is to return to the nuke to flip the on switch. Apparently, in the future this can only be done manually, and no one back on Earth thought this might be a flaw in their plan. More to the point: none of the crack scriptwriters thought of it.

Dad shows up. He's calm but a little creepy. To our surprise, he doesn't fight his son, even as he prepares to blow up his life's work. We learn that dad is awfully depressed because his search for life outside the solar system -- the purpose of his mission, and which he was prepared to murder innocents to continue -- was fruitless. He has found only lifeless worlds. Brad talks him into donning a space suit and exit the ship. Brad flips the red switch, and now the bomb starts it's three-hour countdown. (Stupid, stupid.) Somehow they are going to get back to the other ship, and return to earth. Remember, stupid Brad kicked away the shuttle. Their suits do have jet propulsion, however.

Once outside the doomed ship, daddy decides to fire off his propulsion, jeopardizing his son: Brad had carefully attached a tether to both of them, and to the soon-to-be-destroyed ship. The link to the ship is now broken, and both are drifting off in space. Dad says, let me go! Brad has no choice, he cuts him loose, and Tommy Lee Jones floats off.

Questions explode: why did dad stick it out all this time? And, if he is so determined to continue, why does he meekly allow his son to destroy his ship? Or, if he just wants to die, why not pilot the ship into Neptune? I guess this pioneer of space exploration never thought of it!

So now Brad is alone, again. The bomb is ticking as we know. He aims to get back to his ship. He's tumbled through space because of his dad, but he is able to reorient himself and locate his ship; except the rings of Neptune are in his path. Drat! Didn't think of that! So our hero grabs hold of some spinning thingy on the doomed ship, climbs aboard, twiddles some screws or something in the spinning thingy, and pops off a piece of metal! (Some up-and-coming politician back on Earth should open hearings on the gross incompetence of the U.S. Space Command.) Then our hero takes this panel, and uses it as a shield, as he propels himself through the rings of Neptune back to his ship! Yes, this actually works! When he discards his shield, it's got a few pock-marks. Why did he even need a ship at all?

Then he gets back on his ship. By the way, all this in something less than three hours! Then, we learn that his ship's propulsion is somehow diminished, so...he is forced to rely on the nuclear explosion to propel him the 2 billion miles home!


Well, of course, this works! Pitt returns home, and everything is pretty summary; no inkling of any consequences for his crimes which risked a vital mission and caused the deaths of three people; but his ex-wife, who has been lurking in the background throughout the movie, appears. The End.

Now, I want you to go over either to IMBd, or to Rotten Tomatoes, or anyplace you want to scan the various reviews of this movie. When I got home, that's what I did; I wanted to see if any of the people paid to review movies picked up on any of this.

On 80% favorable critics reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the "critics' consensus" is 83% fresh! But even the unfavorable critics frontpaged on Rotten Tomatoes ignore the plot fiascoes, complaining instead about wasted performances by almost everyone, plodding pace and the film being boring (all true). Meanwhile, all the professional film-watchers who liked it, loved it, because it was "intelligent" and "beautiful" and "magnificent," with Pitt's performance deemed Oscar-worthy. The film is pretty to look at, and Pitt does turn in a fine performance, but how can they overlook the problems? Are they stupid? Or do they think we are?

The one encouraging thing: most of the viewers' reviews are negative. Way negative, as in:

- "pile of crap"

- "slow and boring"

- "poor science"

- "script was ridiculous."

- "I should have run out of the theater screaming but I fell asleep."

At least we are not stupid. That you can rule out.

(Edited for clarity, 9/25/19)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Our stewardship and our parish (Sunday homily)

Every year about this time the finance committee and I present to you 
a financial summary for the prior fiscal year, 
and a budget for the coming year. 
That appeared in last weekend’s bulletin. 

This year, the staff and I also included a “year in review” 
that was designed to tell some of the story 
of what we’ve been doing as a parish, 
to make these columns of numbers a little less abstract.

Now, it occurred to me that today’s Gospel – 
about a dishonest steward of all things! – 
maybe isn’t the best lead-in for this talk!

But in my defense, I think I am an honest steward;
In any case, I have no hesitancy whatsoever 
in giving you a full and complete accounting.

Some years, when I’ve given this talk, we faced a deficit, 
and I asked you to step up your giving to close the gap.
Last year, you were very generous, thank you;
Thanks to that – and careful spending by our staff – 
and a very successful festival in 2018 – 
as of June 30, our parish had a surplus.

For the coming year, with only a slight bump in offerings,
we’ll end the coming year with another balanced budget. 

I’m not going to go through this line by line; 
however, as I did last year, I will stay after the 5 pm Mass today,
and the 11 am Mass tomorrow, to answer any questions you may have. 
Note I said any questions; it doesn’t have to be about finances.
Anything you want to ask, just stay in your pew 
and I’ll come back and be happy to talk to you.

Why do I do this every year? 
Some would rather not hear about finances in the homily, 
and I understand.

But first, I want it to be clear that I do pay attention to these things; 
that I respect the fact that you work hard for your money,
and I take seriously my responsibility to spend it carefully and well.

Second, whether you stay after to ask questions or not,
I hope this sends the message that your questions are always welcome.
My phone number and email are in the bulletin. Contact me anytime.
Even if you don’t like my answer 100% of the time,
I will give you an honest and complete answer, and do it promptly.

Let me make a couple more points.

First, if you look at the very bottom of the summary, 
it tells you how much we have in savings. 
That’s important for our parish for the exact same reason 
it’s important for each of us and our own households, 
to have some money put by for a rainy day.
We earn interest on this – not a lot these days, but some! –
And we can access these funds when needed.

Another thing I want you to know.

Between the oversight of the finance committee, 
and the pastoral council, 
and with many controls and procedures that are in place, 
you can have high confidence in how financial matters are handled.

But I am not saying, “trust me”; feel free to verify!
Ask any questions you want, today or another time.
There is nothing to hide!

We all know that so many of our institutions and leaders, 
yes, including in the Church, have greatly disappointed us, 
and there is a loss of confidence. I am painfully aware of that.

Our hardworking staff and I want to be worthy of your trust.
I think you can feel very good about how your dollars are spent at Saint Remy, 
and I hope you will continue your generous support.

And for some here, maybe you’ve given now and then, and you realize,
it’s time to be more regular. That will help!

And for others, maybe you’ve regularly – thank you! – 
But it’s stayed at the exact same level for a lot of years. 
Maybe you can shoulder a little more of the responsibility. 
In the last twelve months, some of us have had great years;
For others, especially some of our farmers, it’s been rough.
Contributing to the mission of our parish isn’t someone else’s job, 
but the responsibility of every one of us.
That helps make us a strong and healthy parish.

Let me cycle back to the readings.
The first reading in particular talks about our duty to help the poor.
Despite the challenges, it remains true 
that you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 

So, for example, our St. Vincent de Paul group is once again 
asking your help to provide food for those with empty pantries.
Be generous, please!

And beyond that, perhaps this coming year, 
you and I can cast our gaze further out, beyond our own families, 
and beyond Russia, and be ready to share our blessings 
to make a difference for others. In a word: let’s do more!

See, I’m not the only steward here! 
Each of us has a stewardship over the many gifts God has given us. 
Not just treasure; time and talents too.

If the Lord could commend a crooked steward – not for dishonesty, 
but for being industrious and creative – 
then think of the praise and blessings Jesus will have for us, 
when you and I readily offer our own personal gifts for his work.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Is this the most exotic part of Ohio? (Project 88 report)

Twelve more counties visited in three days. Only four left to see.

Last weekend I joined some friends on a visit to Nashville. That was fun! We got back Monday afternoon, and -- because I had originally blocked off more time for that trip, I planned to use the remaining time for a jaunt across Ohio, to take in some of the remaining counties.

My first stop was Hocking County, where Hocking Hills State Park is located. Several folks here have told me how beautiful the area is; they go regularly. They were correct. I stayed at a hotel near Logan, the county seat, and found dinner at Jacks Steak House. I have to admit, when I walked in, the place looked more like a diner than a steakhouse, but the food was good and the service was great, and prices very fair.

There's a lot to see and do in this area; there are cabins everywhere, with lots of opportunities for fishing, hiking and maybe hunting. I took in several of the sites, all of which involved some hiking. Here is "Ash Cave," so called because of ashes found on the floor, presumably from millennia of human habitation.

You can't see it, but there is a stream that trickles down from the rocks above. Things are very dry in Ohio these days.

You can hike all around to these sites; or you can do as I did, drive from place to place, and walk shorter distances. The next stop, Cedar Falls, involved some down and up. Again, the falls were only a trickle:

Here are the walls of the valley I walked through to the falls.

My last stop in the park was "Old Man's Cave," so named because some fellow with two dogs lived some while in these environs:

This picture doesn't do it justice. This vista reminded me of one of the elven habitations in Tolkien's works.

I will return there! But for now, we press on to Perry County My intended destination were Shawnee, a kind of "ghost town," and San Toy, of which only bare remnants remain. First, however, I passed the New Straitsville library, which looked a lot like a train station:

According to Wikipedia, striking coal miners started a fire in the coal mine there in the 1800s that burns to this day! Sorry I didn't get to see that! Over some serious hills, I made my way to Shawnee:

The whole downtown is two blocks, this shows you one side of one block; the rest is about the same, although there are a few buildings still occupied, including by the local historical society. In the middle of this photo is a tavern that almost looks still in operation. But look closer: the entrances are boarded up; yet a grill still sits on the front porch. People still live around here, however.

As I made my way to San Toy, more decay:

There was a lot of this. As it happens, I never found the remnants of San Toy, but I did find this church. A sign of hope:

As I drove over the hills hereabouts, passing into Morgan County, I paused to capture this vista: 

I'm not good at photos; it was beautiful. Ohio doesn't really have mountains, but this area and the rest I passed through comes closest. 

From San Toy I headed east to cross the Muskingum River at McConnelsville. I stopped by the river to get a nice shot of a bridge, which involved walking the plank, as it were. This walkway was very rusty, steeper than it looks, and made some distressing sounds as I stepped onto it.

Here's the bridge:

Here's the village square, which was pretty busy when I took this photo; also some fun looking places nearby. In the background you can see the Opera House, where William Jennings Bryan held a meeting at one time. Despite being the county seat, McConnelsville is only a village -- not large enough to be a city.

Now it was time to head for Washington County. My original plan was to make for Marietta, on the river, but I decided to skip that. Sorry Marietta! Instead I decided to stop in Beverly, several miles down the river, and then turn north. At Beverly, I noticed this lock near the gas station where I stopped:

 Apparently a boat had just come through the locks; here are the fellows working the lower gate. A sign said I wasn't supposed to be standing where I was, but no one said a word.

Also, a boat blew up here some time back:

My next stop was a town called Fulda (and Noble County), where I wanted to see an old Catholic church. There was no direct route; I had some ups and downs and arounds over Ohio's not-quite-mountains. As I drove down State Route 564 -- a newly paved road that I seemed to have all to myself on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon -- I passed the Ashton Inn. Pausing to take a photo, I first asked the fellow standing on the porch if it was OK. After a pause he said, "Don't matter me none."

More twists and turns, including over some gravel roads; then the spire of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception loomed over the treetops as I turned into Fulda:

The church looks like it might have been designed for a steeple that was never added. Next door was a sizeable rectory, and what might have been a small school behind. Here are two photos from inside. This mural is in the vestibule:

There was a picture of Pope Benedict on the back wall of the nave; I did not find a portrait of Pope Francis.

From here I made my way over another hill to Carlisle; as I came down the hill, I found St. Michael Catholic church. The bulletin I picked up told me the pastor was responsible for both these churches, plus two more in nearby Calwell. The road I took over that hill was partly gravel; if that is washed out or snowed over, the priest has a much longer way around.

From here I headed east to Monroe County. I actually made it to Lewisville, but I can't find any pictures. Here's a lonely intersection as proof I was there:

This is Summerfield, on the way toward Cambridge, where I was staying the night:

Just beyond that was a huge industrial plant, I'm not sure what goes on here. Marathon Oil owned it. By the way, I did see a few oil pumps here and there, and signs referring to fracking.


Pleasant City (which brought me into Guernsey County): 

Sorry, no photos of the "Microtel," or the restaurant! 

Next day I drove up to the nearby Salt Fork State Park. After taking in the sites of Hocking Hills, I chose to do a quick drive through; but there are caves and trails here, too, and also a lake for swimming. After this, I drove back down to I-70 and headed east into Belmont County

I was going to find an old schoolhouse, only I drove past it before I checked the directions! I did find my way to an old bridge, from the days of the original National Road, which later became U.S. 40. And I took a picture (or so I thought). Anyway, here's a link at Wikipedia. (By the way, only with this bridge did I realize that when Wikipedia provides latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, you can click on these and Google Maps will give you directions to that spot! Neat.) I did get a shot of the courthouse in St. Clairsville:

From here I drove north on U.S. 250. I stopped in Harrisville -- just inside Harrison County -- for this shot: 

From here I continued up to Cadiz (a local told me how to pronounce it: "CAT is"). I noticed this church, the Scott Memorial United Methodist Church:

If it's not clear, a lot of the church is underground, with just a narrow band of windows admitting light. I searched the website for more about the structure, but couldn't find it.

Here's the courthouse in Cadiz. I parked here and found a shop nearby for a sandwich.

From thence I continued northwest on U.S. 250, making for Tuscarawas County, past lovely Tappan Lake. Somewhere I read that all the lakes in Ohio -- apart from Lake Erie of course -- are man-made. My destination was Gnadenhutten, where a group of Indians, who had converted to the Moravian sect, were massacred; it seems they were mistaken for another band of Indians who had raided the area. Again, I thought I had photos of the burial site for those killed, but alas.

Here's a photo of the Moravian church in Gnadenhutten:

From here I made my way into Holmes County, a center for the Amish. But first I passed through Sugarcreek, locally termed the "Little Switzerland of Ohio," and home of the world's largest cukkoo clock; I arrived in time to hear it strike 2 pm:

(Here I want to note that many times I've taken video with my phone, unintentionally. On this occasion, when I wanted to film a video, I couldn't figure out how.) 

From here I made for Berlin, and the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. Fascinating fact: Amish represent 40 percent of Holmes County; and a majority of the residents speak either German or "Pennsylvania German"!

Both an inside and outside tour are offered at the heritage center; I signed up both; they are short.

Here's a mural on the outside of the center, depicting the Amish/Hutterite/Anabaptist immigrants arriving on these shores, thirsting for religious liberty:

Here's our guide (in red shirt) showing us the one room schoolhouse. First it was a public school, later an Amish school, now an exhibit. He told us many of these schools are still in use around the area; Amish children attend school through eighth grade.

Here's the barn, where they have an original Conestoga wagon which Amish would have driven across Pennsylvania to Ohio. He showed us the bucket that held the wheel grease; it still smelled of grease.

Here he showed us how the Amish "do" church: they don't have church buildings; instead, worship rotates from farm to farm, and this wagon carries the benches, hymnbooks and other supplies used by the congregation. One of the things he explained was that the austerities the Amish embrace -- such as not using electricity or owning automobiles -- are seen not as sinful, per se, but rather as things that threaten the integrity of their family life. Our guide told us his parents had been Amish, but switched to Mennonite. (Amish, German Baptist, Mennonite, and Brethren are all theological cousins belonging to the Anabaptist movement identified with Menno Simons).

After this came the inside tour, which involved a narrated tour of a massive circular mural named the "Behalt Cyclorama." Painted in 1992, it tells the story of the Amish and related groups from their beginnings in central Europe and their migration to many places around the world. Photos were not allowed, but go here for more about the mural. Given the origins of the movement, the narration wasn't exactly in line with Catholic belief; but I didn't think it would be winsome of me to argue with the gentleman every time he got history or Scripture wrong.

From here I drove south into Coshocton, my last county of the day. As I did, the near-mountains shifted to bigger, and then softer hills; this was more what people think of as Ohio. Here's the courthouse:

Then, on my way home, I passed through Newark; and I remembered, that's where Longaberger Baskets is headquartered. Here's their impressive, basket-shaped building, from the highway, at 70 mph:

After this, one more tour, back to the northeast, for the last four counties: Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll. If all goes well, that will be at the end of the month. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Project 88 update: two more counties

It's been pretty busy lately in the parish, although it's weird -- because it's not for any particular reason. It just seems like I've been getting more calls, and having more meetings and projects. Actually, I do know some of the reasons, but still it all seems to be hitting at once. So this will be a quick update on Project 88, my personal endeavor to visit all 88 counties in my home state of Ohio.

Some of my trips have involved going out on Sunday, staying overnight, and coming back the next day; that enables more. But last Sunday, I was looking forward to staying home, so I planned for a day trip Monday to Fairfield and Pickaway Counties. These are right in the center of Ohio, south and southeast of Columbus, our capital.

Since I was on a tight schedule, I took the Interstate all the way to Columbus, and turned south on U.S. 33 toward my first stop, Lockville, in Fairfield County. There's not much there, other than a park with several locks of the old Ohio and Erie Canal (not to be confused with the Miami and Erie, which passed north from Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie, passing near where I live now). Here are some shots:

As I walked between these walls, I thought of how each of these stones was cut and shaped; such work!

This bridge was moved here, of course. It can be rented for picnics; there are tables nearby as well.

After this, I decided to investigate a place with a curious name: Lithopolis. On the way I passed some apple trees with their fruit being harvested . . .

. . . and a horse in a pasture. I wanted to get out and visit the horse, but I wondered if the owner would come along, and maybe the horse would object?

Lithopolis did indeed turn out to be interesting.

First, the war memorial, using lots of stone (lithos); the city was clearly a place where stone was quarried, although I didn't go looking for the quarry.

Across the street from the war memorial was this inviting sign; alas, the place was closed!

Then I noticed a store, and I went in to visit and maybe get something to drink. The store had water (75 cents! what a deal!); I asked about Coke Zero. "Oh, we have that, but she (referring to the unseen helper in the back) drinks it! We have Pepsi One." I stuck with water. Here's the friendly clerk:

I asked her about some signs I saw for "Honeyfest." Was it upcoming, or did I miss it? "You missed it, it was last weekend." There were bee keeping demonstrations and so forth! Sounded like fun. She also told me about the Wagnall Memorial which was just down the street, so I went there:

She explained this was in memory of Adam Wagnalls, who was part of the Funk and Wagnalls publishing company, which used to produce encyclopedias and dictionaries, among other books.  The clerk added that the books were printed there in Lithopolis at one time. I wanted to ask about the "mayonnaise jar" from the porch, but I lost my nerve. Anyway, here are two original Norman Rockwell paintings on display at the Wagnalls Memorial, which has a church attached, by the way:

The clerk also steered me toward the mill at Rock Mill, so I headed that way. I passed the Bloom Township offices, here they are:

Feeling a little peckish, I noticed this brewery -- maybe they had lunch? But it was closed:

And here was the mill, in Rock Mill. It is open for weekends for demonstrations, I think; but not open on Monday. I met a nice older couple looking around and we talked a bit.

Here's a view of the Hocking River, which powered the mill. You may not be able to tell from this photo, but it has high rock walls and the river spills down from an even narrower channel on the left.

Now it was time to head toward Pickaway County, which was named for a band of Shawnee Indians who used to live here. I meandered my way toward Marcy (right on the county line), where I found a store and restaurant in business since 1840. Here it is:

I ordered a burger and got a pop. "Do you have Coke Zero?" "Usually, but the truck hasn't arrived today." I settled for a diet Dr Pepper. While I waited, I noticed this display:

I took my lunch with me, planning to visit the working farm in nearby Slate Run Park. It was closed. I ate my lunch at the park, and decided to meander further. I found my way to Saint Paul, which seemed just a few homes grouped around a Lutheran church named . . . St. Paul. Here it is:

From there I wandered over toward a point on the map called "Little Chicago," near Ashville, but that turned out to be a bust. I am skipping over my unfortunate encounter with a tailgater -- nothing bad, actually amusing in a way, but no time. I passed through Commercial Point, where I saw this former IOOF hall -- that's the International Order of Odd Fellows, an esoteric fraternal organization something like the Freemasons. My great-grandfather was an Odd Fellow, and he's buried in their section at Cincinnati's Spring Grove. I have certainly seen many of their halls, some of which I've photographed for this tour. The IOOF still exists, with something like a quarter-million members worldwide.

From Commercial Point, I headed up toward Orient, where there is a massive "correctional institute." Sorry, no pictures -- it's illegal to take photos of Ohio prisons! From there I drove up toward London -- what a nice place, I should go back! -- but I was headed toward I-70 and home. Before I got on the interstate, I passed through Summerford, which was located right on U.S. 40, built on the old National Road. Here's another IOOF hall:

And here's a view of old U.S. 40, which might be built right on the National Road, that was so important in our nation's building:

That will have to do. That makes 71 counties, and if all goes well, I hope to pick up a few next week. Stay tuned!