Sunday, November 29, 2020

God wants to forgive you! (Sunday homily)

 I want to make three points in this homily.

First, I want to explain what Advent is really about – 

it’s not exactly what you may think.

We often say Advent is about preparing for Christmas, 

but that’s not exactly right. 

After all, what do the readings we just heard 

have to do with Christmas? It’s hard to see, isn’t it?

That’s because what Advent is primarily about 

is preparing for eternity; 

and only about Christmas, to the extent that Christmas, too, 

is also about eternity. 

So look again at the readings – 

doesn’t that explanation make a better fit? 

These are about eternity!

The second thing I want to call to your attention 

has to do with the details of that first reading. 

This is such a powerful passage, it is deeply moving: 

God’s people are crying out to heaven for God’s grace:

“Why do you let us wander, O LORD…

 why do you let us “harden our hearts”? 

They are asking for the help of God’s grace, to be converted! 

It’s such a powerful prayer, isn’t it what so many of us pray? 

This prayer, this prophecy by Isaiah, do you know how it is fulfilled?

In the sacraments of the Church.

Beginning in baptism, the sacraments open us up 

to all the graces we need to be saved, 

beginning with the grace of conversion. 

But, as much as we’d like it so, this is not a one-and-done process.

Nevertheless, the desire we want to have in us, to grow in us – 

the desire for what God wants – 

that comes from the Holy Spirit, 

and it comes through living the sacramental life.

So, I’m going to make a pitch I’ve made before:

This Advent, decide you want to begin a new habit, 

of coming regularly – if not frequently – to confession.

Sometimes people will object, 

“but I don’t know what to say in confession!”

All I can say is, unless you are treating everyone around you just right – 

then I’m guessing there’s plenty to say. 

Start there, with how you get along with your family, your spouse, 

your kids, your coworkers.

There will be extra opportunities during Advent, 

on top of the six hours we regularly have of confessions. 

Here’s the final point to make: 

God wants to forgive us! God wants to forgive us!

Why do I make that point so strongly? 

Because over and over I hear people express deep fear, 

that maybe I didn’t confess my sins exactly right, 

or maybe I didn’t remember it exactly right, 

maybe I need to do it all over again. And again. And again! 

And I want to ask: Do you think God is setting you up to fail? 

Do you imagine God is playing tricks on you, 

as if we were all in some cosmic game show – 

and if you or I answer wrong, whoops! Oh, too bad!? 

Stop and think about who you really think God is.

And so I repeat: God wants to forgive us. He wants to help us.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

It's about the full truth of being human -- and our ordinary choices (Christ the King homily)

 Looking at, and thinking about, 

this Gospel passage about the sheep and the goats, 

it’s easy enough to see how this fits today’s feast of Christ the King:

Here he is, the King, summoning us before him for judgment.

How you and I treat one another 

is how we treat the Lord Jesus, for good or ill.

That right there is a pretty powerful realization.

I remember vividly one day, before I was a priest, 

before I was even in the seminary,

And I had gone to my parish for confession. 

As I was driving back home, for whatever reason, 

this passage came forcefully to mind; and all of a sudden, 

I was thinking about all manner of ordinary things, 

but through this lens: it wasn’t to other people 

I’d been rude while driving, or who I had refused to help, 

or had insulted or spoken ill of; it was the Lord himself!

And even though I’d just been to confession a few minutes before, 

I felt like turning around and going right back!

So if nothing else, let that sink in: 

how you and I treat each other, and strangers, 

in Jesus’ eyes, is how we treat him. A powerful, powerful thought. 

Life-changing if it really sinks in.

Still, there is another way the kingship of Jesus is shown 

in this passage – do you see it?

It’s specifically in the actions of the sheep: 

they feed and clothe and comfort those who are in need. 

This shows the Kingdom, because when Jesus reigns completely, 

over every kingdom and in every heart, 

there will be no hunger, no deprivation, no one left out.

A powerful sign of the Kingdom is when you and I do these works;

and it is a betrayal of Christ to neglect them.

Having said that, let’s be clear about something else, 

because the point I just made can be manipulated.

There are a lot of people who want to boil the Christian Faith 

down, if you will, to social work.

In case you haven’t noticed, 

this is especially popular with many politicians: 

they will gladly call attention to their Catholic Faith, 

but they will leave out pretty significant parts of the Faith.

Feed the hungry? Sure, here’s a government program!

Defend the lives of the unborn? Defend the truth about marriage?

Oh no, can’t do that! Somehow, that’s illegitimate.

The point I’m making is that this is not only about material needs. 

That approach ends up deforming our understanding 

of what it means to be human: 

only this part matters, while this part, not so much.

That does violence to the truth of what God created, 

and there’s no way that can be squared with this Gospel.

Let me specify exactly what I’m talking about:

The fact of the human race being male and female, 

made for each other. 

And please note my precise language: this is a fact, a scientific fact;

it is not a religious doctrine! Those who want to make a revolution, 

want to suggest that this is merely a matter of our quaint beliefs, 

our outdated beliefs, but no: 

you’re male, you’re female, those are facts.

From this basic premise flows the true nature of marriage.

And also: that being male and female are not mere choices.

It should have been a scandal when Joe Biden, during the campaign, 

said he was in favor of an 8-year-old child boy deciding he is a girl, 

and therefore, the parent should give that child body-distorting drugs, 

and perhaps, later even surgery, to “confirm” this confusion.

So, I realize this puts us in a tough spot, 

because these ideas are winning everywhere, 

and if you and I oppose them, we’re called “bigots.”

It’s getting worse by the day.

But there is no way the King can or will approve of us 

giving people food and clothes, sure – 

but meanwhile giving our approval, or remaining silent, 

while people do mad things to themselves, 

wrecking themselves and each other. 

And since I mentioned Mr. Biden: it’s no secret 

he didn’t get many votes around here, and a lot of us are pretty upset 

at the idea he may be our next President.

It’s easy to have faith when things go right; 

the challenge is keeping an even keel when things go wrong.

Nothing happened on Election Day, or any other day,

that Jesus Christ doesn’t know about, and cannot direct as he chooses, as he chooses. 

As a priest-friend of mine says, “there’s a reason it’s called ‘faith.’”

So that highlights one more task each of us has:

Keeping steady, and keeping faithful, with the tasks before us.

One of those tasks is to pray for those who hold public office,

and to continue to speak out and be heard by them.

Notice once more: this Gospel does not show 

Jesus holding the sheep and goats accountable 

for the big-picture outcome.

No, he holds them accountable for choices they made

day-by-day in their ordinary lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Ways to make great results of modest things (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, you have a wife and mother 

who is attentive and faithful in small things. 

The result is a powerful impact on her family and beyond. 

In the gospel, we have two servants 

who are attentive and faithful in small things. 

But let me highlight something else – did you notice? 

Between the first two servants, there was a possibility of envy, 

because one is more celebrated and more successful 

than the other. 

Even so, there is no resentment, and the runner-up is not dispirited.

Then there is the final servant, who rejects the Lord’s gift. 

He is fearful and perhaps proud. 

There is a kind of false humility that is really pride: 

that says, I am not good enough, I don’t dare, 

I should hold back, and is consumed by timidity and fretfulness. 

As I said, this masquerades as humility – “oh, poor me, nothing me!” 

But it really is pride, because it’s me looking at, focusing on, ME, 

rather than focusing on God.

This mindset, by the way, is related to scrupulosity, 

which some people wrestle with. 

Here is the connection: with scrupulosity, 

one problem with scrupulosity is too much self-focus: 

in this case, focusing on our sinfulness -- excessively. 

God never calls us to look at self, self, self, self, 

either in pride of our own accomplishments – 

or in precisely and repeatedly detailing our failings. 

Remember what we talked about with the saints in heaven: 

our focus, our gaze, must always shift back to the Lord, 

not on ourselves!

Oh, and while I’m on that idea, a reminder: 

this is what our annual Forty Hours Devotion does for us: 

a chance to re-train our gaze 

on Jesus in a particular way, 

so it radiates that much more through everything else in our lives.

So please don’t miss the opportunity to turn your gaze to our Eucharistic Lord, 

on the altar, today and tomorrow. 

And don’t forget our Solemn Closing at 4 PM Sunday, 

and you will have a chance to hear our seminarian, Isaiah Callan, 

share a reflection on the Lord. 

It’s going to be great, and I know we all want to support him.

The word “talent” in the Gospel can be misleading, 

because we use that word to mean ability; 

but at the time the Gospel was written, 

the word simply referred to a certain amount of silver – 

in other words, money. 

So really, the parable is about having readiness 

to use whatever resources we have, 

whether time, money or personal gifts; 

but not on how much or how little.

This business of faithfulness in small things, to bring great results – 

isn’t this what you and I are doing with our parish? 

This is the point of our religious education, 

our youth activities, our kids clubs – 

we are trying take the resources of greatest value to us – 

our children and our Faith and our future – and bring about increase.

Some can feel as though they have very little to offer. 

Many times I have talked to people in their later years, 

who aren’t mobile and active as they once were,

and they will say, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” 

All I can say is that, however limited you may feel you are,

you still do have something to offer the Lord, even in a small way. 

Remember that Jesus makes great things of meager offerings. 

Beware the temptation to say, like the third servant, 

“I don’t have enough to work with, so I won’t do anything.”

Another way you and I live this parable is in sharing our faith.

It is in small things, small details, 

that we will bring people back to the Faith, 

or bring people for the first time. 

The way to share the Faith, and bring increase, is by our friendship, 

our openness, our welcome, and by giving simple but sincere answers 

to the questions: why are you a Catholic? 

What does your Faith do in your life? 

How we answer that is how we give an invitation for others.  

And then you and I will be able to say, on Judgment Day,

“Lord, you gave me five, and here I brought you five more!”

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Will you have the reserves you need in time of crisis? (Sunday homily)


(Click on image to go to its source.)

This parable is one that I have found difficult to unravel 

over the years. Maybe you have too. 

This past week, I drew a lot of insights from an article 

by a Protestant professor named Jack Crabtree

He points out that the two groups of virgins 

are alike in almost every respect. 

They are all invited to the wedding;

they are all carrying lamps; they all bring some oil. 

They all fall asleep; and they all wake up at the same time.

And – here is the key detail – if the Bridegroom had come right away, 

all these young women would have entered together into the wedding.

What stands out is that five of them 

were equipped for the unexpected; 

they were prepared to wait and wait and wait. 

A surprise turn of events did not throw them off.

So, what made the difference for those who made it into the wedding –

that is, into the Kingdom, into salvation?

What enabled those five virgins to stay calm and collected, 

despite being thrown a curve-ball?

They had that extra reservoir of oil; 

that is, they were well rooted in the Lord.

Where does that come from?

The hard truth is that you and I are our habits, either good or bad.

If you face a crisis, what is your first instinct? Is it:

(a) To cry and hope someone else fixes it?

(b) To figure out your excuse, and who to blame?

(c) To go back to bed and pretend it’s not happening?

Or, how about:

(d) To pray?

(e) To look around for who needs help first? To run to the fire?

(f) Or, to seek counsel from the wisest people available?

(g) To draw from what you learned from the saints, or the Bible?

You and I first imitate our habits – good or bad – from others;

but we end up cultivating them ourselves, producing in our lives either 

a well-tended garden of useful things, or an untamed patch of weeds. 

If you don’t develop the habit of prayer ahead of time,

what makes you think you’ll have that extra oil when trouble hits?

What we want, of course, are good habits, or virtues:

the three supreme virtues are: Faith, Hope and Love.

There are many vices opposed to these, among them:

Self-pride, cynicism, doubt and despair, and selfishness.

We also refer to the “cardinal,” or hinge, virtues of

Courage, Temperance, Justice and Prudence;

and again, there are many contrary vices,

such as faint-heartedness, self-indulgence, wrath, greed and laziness.

This is a good time to address what’s on the minds of many of us:

the uncertain outcome of the presidential election.

Some are really worked up about it.

Let me just say this – and you may not like hearing this but it’s true:

the election is now out of our hands!

Did you reflect and pray and vote?

Did you try to be a good influence on others? 

Then: well done, good and faithful servant!

You carried out your duty as a citizen and as a disciple.

You did your part; and now it is in God’s hands; not yours.

All you can do at this point is pray and wait and carry on.

Some people – and you know who you are – 

carry the weight of it all, as if the outcome were all on you.

But God never made you responsible 

for the decisions of 150 million people.

Each of the ten virgins was responsible for herself.

I just want to ask gently, 

if the election, or something else, is really bothering you,

are you forgetting in whose hands this all rests? Not yours!

This is when we dig deep and cultivate the virtue of faith and of hope.

God’s expectations aren’t that mysterious or complicated. 

Note: I did not say what God asks is always easy; 

but I am saying, it’s not an obscure riddle.

Each day is a gift. The best, first thing to do each day 

is to remember your Savior and offer your day to him, 

whatever may come. 

Greet him first each morning and last each night.

Get to confession regularly; you’ll find your reservoirs getting deeper.

Walk with him and talk with him as you carry out your daily tasks. 

When day is done, do a look back, ask pardon and give thanks;

and then sleep the sleep of the well-prepared waiting for the Kingdom,

tomorrow, next week, next year, or whenever the Lord chooses.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Here's why I'm not worried about Trump v. Biden

A lot of folks are really worked up right now about whether President Trump will prevail in the counting (and counting...and counting) of ballots, or will former Vice President Joseph Biden end up being declared the winner.

I'm not worried about this, here's why.

If Biden prevails -- fair or not, I'm skipping that question for now -- it is virtually certain that he will face a Senate controlled by the GOP, and a House that has a very narrow Democratic majority. (There is a very slim chance of the GOP taking the House, but don't bet on that.) Are you worried about those two Senate seats in Georgia? I am not. No crystal ball, but nothing will turn out Republican voters in Georgia as well as Biden being seen as the winner. 

This means a President Biden will be very constrained in what he can do. Yes, he can issue executive orders and make appointments. Yes, he can unravel some of the regulatory reform carried out by President Trump. So, yes, he can have some impact. To his everlasting shame, he will certainly take steps to have more babies die from abortion; and he will do what he can to see that children who are confused about their sexual identity are confirmed in that confusion, given drugs that will wreck their bodies as their puberty is disrupted, all in a triumph of "transgender" hocus-pocus over real science. 

So, let's acknowledge right off the bat there are real negatives, no one can deny that.

Oh, and I might as well here acknowledge that, for many reasons, many of us will need strong stomachs for the next few months if Biden prevails. The celebrations by various folks will be hard to bear. That all this is in any way dressed up as Catholic makes me vomit a little in my mouth, you too. You and I can just guess which roman collars will show up for the party and be anointed the Voice of (the right sort of) Catholics. So all this will be a bit of purgatory for us. Fortify yourself.

But any sweeping legislation, such as socialized medicine, or a tax hike, or the Green New Deal, or breaking the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court, adding new states, on and on? All DOA. (Even a bare Democratic majority in the Senate makes all that extremely unlikely, and a GOP majority even more so.)

Meanwhile, who do you think is going to be mobilized, energized, activated, chomping at the bit for the next election? His opposition. 

Meanwhile, note that with the exception of the Senate, there were no "coattails" for Biden. His party lost both in the House and in state races, with more to come in 2022. How can I be so sanguine? Because that's the historic pattern. When one party wins the White House, generally the other party does well in Congress and state races. It was especially true under Clinton and then under Obama. The GOP already has strong control over state houses, and that will only grow during the next two elections.

Or President Trump pulls it out, and I got (and if you were unhappy about Biden, you got) what you voted for. He keeps on appointing good judges and pursues other good policies as he can. But the deadlock in Congress continues, so don't expect much more.

As you can see, I take the long view, and I suggest you do the same. Politics is, like baseball, a long game. Like chess, it pays to look not at the next move, but at the next ten or 20. Where will be in 2022 and 2024, 2026 and 2028. Very frankly, I was rather concerned about how things would play out if Trump got re-elected, for three reasons: (1) few presidents have had more successful second terms, for various reasons, one of which is that (2) they tend to lose control entirely of Congress, and their opposition grows stronger and stronger in Congress, and then, (3) the historical pattern is that Republican presidents tend to be followed by Democratic ones. So while I voted for Trump this year, I didn't like the prospect of the other party ending up being pretty strong in Congress going into 2024, at which point the Democrats would be poised to take everything.

So again, while I voted for Trump, if he does not return to the White House, I like how the board is set for the next several cycles. If I were Biden and Senator Harris, I wouldn't like my "victory." This is not the "blue wave" they were all promised.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Trump, Biden and Jesus (All Saints homily)

 The first reading is about what this feast day is about, 

and that is heaven. To be a saint is to be in heaven. 

To be in heaven – do you want to be in heaven someday? 

Well, to be in heaven, is to be a saint. 

So, unless you plan on going to hell, 

then you and I and all of us will be saints.

What does it mean to be a saint? 

Today’s readings give us lots of information. 

So one thing you could do is save these readings in particular,

And you could frame a daily plan around them:

“Today I’m going to try to keep my heart clean,” or

“My project for the week is to be merciful.”

That would be a great way to get to heaven.

I want to point out three specific details.

First: what the beatitudes of the Gospel are all about 

is not being satisfied by this world, 

but rather anchoring your hope in the next.

The worst thing this world can do to you and me isn’t losing a job 

or money or our health or an election or even our life.

No, the worst thing the world can do to us 

is make us happy and content and tell our conscience, “go to sleep!”

So Jesus tells us: be poor in spirit. Be mournful. Be meek.

If we hunger for heaven, we will be satisfied.

That will lead you to confession and help you know what to say.

And it will lead you to the Eucharist 

and know that Holy Communion is not a “what” but a “Who.” 

It’s not a ritual we do, but it is – however hard it is to realize – 

a taste of heaven.

Now notice the second detail:

notice they came out of a “time of great distress.”

Who doesn’t hate all the disruption caused by the virus?

And who isn’t sick of seeing violence in our city’s streets?

What about all the political yelling and turmoil?

We would all like things to be calm – to be, quote, “normal.”

The Book of Revelation is full of turmoil and conflict. 

It is, at times, frightening. But it was written for Christians, 

both in the beginning and through time, to realize:

You don’t have to be afraid of these things, 

because they will not keep you from being close to Jesus Christ.

It’s like the guy who wants to give up cigarettes or start working out, 

and whoops, there’s a problem at work, so he puts it off.

Then it’s Thanksgiving, and he says, “I’ll wait till the holidays are over.”

Then it’s January, and too cold. So it goes; there’s always an excuse.

This world is a wonderful place, but it is also a spiritual battlefield,

and we don’t get to coast through and have it all handed to us.

Lots of us are all worked up about the election.

I’m not saying the election isn’t important; it is. Be sure to vote!

But do you think the saints in heaven are losing sleep over it?

No! And that leads to the third detail: where is their gaze?

The saints stand “before the Lamb”: their gaze is fixed on Christ.

Nothing that happens on Election Day or any day thereafter 

will change this truth, that Jesus Christ is the King. He is the Lord.

He is the only savior the world will ever have.

You and I hope for the best, and work for the best, in this world,

but history goes as it goes. Nations rise and fall.

Eventually – in God’s own time – all this will fade away.

You and I are guaranteed nothing in this world, other than this – 

and this is all we need – that in this world we can become saints.

Like you, I’ll watch the election results, and not get enough sleep.

But before you do, come to St. Remy Church, 

because we’ll have adoration of the Lord 

all night Monday and through the day.

Like the saints, let’s keep our gaze on King Jesus.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

'Hands off, Caesar!' (Sunday homily)

 There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 

that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 

Specifically, when our Lord says, 

“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, 

and to God what belongs to God.”

This passage got brought up when the Obama Administration 

sought to force employers – including religious employers – 

to provide contraception and abortion-causing drugs 

as part of insurance.

As you know, the Catholic Church and many others fought this;

the Little Sisters of the Poor were on the front lines of this battle. 

I regret to point out that one of the candidates for President 

says he will revive that battle if he is elected.

All during this, we’ve heard people say, 

“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is supposedly saying,

what government wants, government gets.

Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!

That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—

And about a coin.

They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 

That word is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image, 

then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.

Got that?

Then listen what Jesus says next: 

“And what belongs to God, give to God.”

The coin bears Caesar’s image; 

But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 

creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 

is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 

before they created humanity: 

“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says it’s OK to destroy unborn children? 

And to torture people as part of war? 

Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 

Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.

Recall again what Genesis said: 

“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 

God is the Creator above all. 

While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 

you can build whole cities, 

but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 

you can’t make it out of nothing. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 

you can create people and worlds and histories—

but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 

or the silver screen. 

You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—

when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 

and comes whisper-close to being just like God,

and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,

actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!

And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—

another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.

Marriage – requiring a man and a woman;

I repeat, requiring a man and a woman – 

is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

When Jesus said these words, 

no one asked him, or anyone else, 

what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, you and I make those decisions,

And we have an election in just a couple of weeks.

You and I decide who will be Caesar, 

and what he will be able to do. 


Remember that you and I are God’s “coin”; 

We were inscribed with his Name when we were baptized 

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!

As the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.

Good news! 

There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,

to make it beautiful, to make it shine!

That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 

bearing Caesar’s image. 

But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.

What matters supremely to him is you.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Catholic, not Marxist, or Racist, Social Justice (Sunday homily)

 Last week in my homily, for “Respect Life Sunday,” 

I touched on the duty we have to advocate justice for the unborn, 

for the elderly and others who lives are at risk in our country. 

This is the pre-eminent moral issue of our time, our bishops have said.

Having said that – and keeping that always in mind – 

there are other things deserving our attention with an election near.

One of the things that is so striking in the first reading 

is the abundance. There is more than enough for everyone, 

and what God provides is first-class. 

This calls to mind what our faith teaches us about “social justice.” 

I know that term sets some people’s teeth on edge, 

but the idea was Catholic long before 

some political types tried to make it their own. 

It is a Biblical idea: yes, you and I are indeed our brother’s keeper.

This past summer, what did you and I witness? 

In some places, people protesting – I mean, actual, peaceful protests – 

for the cause of justice, including racial justice. 

That is something we can all respect and applaud. 

But then we also saw people choosing destruction 

and trying to hijack calls for justice in pursuit of violent revolution.  

For example, some of these hijackers 

have a false notion of “racial justice.” 

The late Dr. Martin Luther King said it so beautifully: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day 

live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, 

but by the content of their character.” 

But many people today are saying we’ll never get there, 

and they want to keep sorting people by race and other categories. 

So you have some colleges that are actually agreeing 

to segregate campus activities by race. 

Others react with so-called “white nationalism.” 

As Catholics, you and I must speak up for the principle of solidarity:  

that we are all one human family, created in God’s image.

The Catholic Church in this country has advocated for measures 

to ensure working people are treated fairly 

and can find their own voice, acting collectively if that is their wish. 

We Catholics have pushed for a “safety net” to make sure 

everyone has the most basic things. This is why, back in the 1880s, 

Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus. 

This safety net has included government measures, 

but that isn’t what social justice is only or even mainly about. 

First and last, it is about our own hearts, 

whether you and I are open to others, 

despite all the attempts to divide us from each other. 

Our human family has God as our generous father, 

who demands we imitate that generosity.

That calls to mind another principle of Catholic social teaching, 

which is that the good things of this earth, which God created, 

were given for the benefit of all people, not just some.

Maybe you’re thinking, OK, fine; how does all this connect 

to the election? 

Well, I’m asking you to keep these things in mind.

Being a Catholic citizen includes being a voice for equity and solidarity.

Be light, not darkness; choose hope, not cynicism.

What’s not acceptable for a Catholic 

is to think only in terms of self-interest – 

what’s good for me and mine – and to forget about the common good.

There is a lot of “us and them” talk these days, 

and some really want to stoke hostilities: 

rural against urban, race against race. 

Don’t get sucked into this; push back against it. 

Meanwhile we have this hapless figure in the Gospel. 

He had been invited to this great party by the King, 

but he couldn’t be bothered to make even a little effort. 

God gives us so much. 

What will God say to us if we don’t make the effort 

to help make our society better,

by speaking up for what is right, 

by getting involved in positive ways? 

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Respect Life Sunday homily

 The first Sunday in October is always “Respect Life Sunday.” 

Given so many negative trends in our society, the need is obvious.

Meanwhile, we have a big election in a month, so that makes this even more timely.

And, meanwhile, every year I give you a report on parish finances. 

I know that’s a boring subject, and some would rather I not bring it up, 

but you work hard for the money you contribute to the parish,

and I want you to know it’s being used with care.  

Let me start with the financial stuff and move on from that. 

Last week we inserted a summary of the past fiscal year, 

with some history from prior years, 

and as usual, we included a proposed budget. 

I’m not going to go over it in detail now, but after the 5 pm Mass Saturday 

and after the 11 am Mass Sunday, 

I will stay and answer any questions anyone has – 

and that goes beyond the financial report. 

But let me give a brief overview.

We planned for a tight budget and all was going well – till March!

Then, of course, the virus hit, and everything went sideways.

But something amazing happened: despite the shutdown through May, 

you continued to be generous; weekly collections only dipped a little.

So we were all pretty nervous back in April, but God was good; 

you were faithful, and we came through.

We applied for and received a so-called loan from the government; 

I say “so-called” because if we fulfill the conditions, 

we keep the money; and I am entirely confident that will happen.

Now, for the current fiscal year: 

your weekly giving continues to sustain the parish. 

Losing our annual festival was a big blow.

But again: God is good, our parishioners are wonderful, 

and a number of those who sponsored the Queen of Hearts event 

chose not to take their money back even after we had to cancel it. 

All that means less of a deficit than we feared. 

We never want to plan for a deficit, but the thing is, 

most of our expenses are pretty fixed.

The help from the government was contingent on not laying people off, 

and if we’d not accepted that help, we’d have a much bigger hole.

With so many people being out of work or facing reduced hours, 

I am reluctant to stand here and ask anyone to dig deeper.

If we stay steady, we’ll be fine. That’s why we have reserves.

Now let’s talk about what we try to focus on this Sunday every year: this is “Respect Life Sunday.”

When this comes up, especially in election years, 

there’s no avoiding the fact that this is, in part, a political question.

I say that because there are always folks 

who don’t think anything political should ever be brought up in a homily. 

Talking about respecting life rings hollow 

if it never results in any change in society and in laws. 

It’s not only about changing laws, and – in an election year, 

about voting – but it certainly includes these things. 

And for those who say a priest isn’t supposed to talk about politics, 

let me explain something. 

I can pretty much talk about anything that crosses paths 

with the teachings of our Faith, and that is pretty much everything. 

The only thing the Archbishop wants me to avoid 

is endorsing or opposing candidates, which I’m certainly not going to do.

When we talk about respecting life, obviously that has wide application;

It’s entirely fair to say that it’s more than about legal abortion, 

or euthanasia, which is helping people kill themselves,

or the death penalty. 

So it is true that issues of poverty and bigotry and war

and how our country interacts with other countries are all connected. 

In the same vein, it is likewise true that other issues on people’s minds, 

like questions about the environment, or taxes and spending, 

Family life, protecting the true nature of marriage,

law and order, respect for democratic norms, and more,

are also moral questions and they are important.

That said: our bishops have said some issues matter more,

And common sense says that as well.

Obviously with a lot of issues, one side isn’t clearly morally wrong, 

and when we debate things like climate change, 

people can legitimately take different approaches 

on how serious you think that is – compared to other things – 

and also on how you tackle the problem.

But certain issues aren’t like that. 

There is no moral justification for legal abortion. None at all. 

Same for euthanasia. 

There is no justification for redefining marriage, 

because that is ultimately an attack on the family as God designed it.

So it is not possible to be Catholic and support legal abortion,

any more than it was possible, 50 years ago, 

for a Catholic to defend race segregation. 

And it’s the same for redefining marriage.

Let me say a word about the death penalty.

The Church argues that we would be better off 

if we got rid of capital punishment; 

but Church teaching does not put it on the same level as abortion, 

because we have always recognized there are situations 

that can justify executing a guilty criminal, 

but nothing can ever justify killing executing an unborn child. 

In the first reading, God reminds his people: 

you are my vineyard, I formed you with great love and care – 

but I want justice, not bloodshed, God warns them.

God expects the same of us. 

Each of us has a solemn duty to work for justice, 

especially protecting the right to life 

of the unborn, the aged and the vulnerable.

There are lots of ways we can do that, 

but it certainly must include 

how we exercise our precious right to vote.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

How to build a 'Eucharistic' marriage (Sunday homily)

 I hope you noticed the opportunity we have here at St. Remy Parish 

starting Friday evening, October 2. That’s this week!

Greg Schutte, who has been here many times over the years 

with his wife, Stephanie, will be leading a series of evenings 

for couples, whether married or engaged. 

Even if you are, as they say, “pre-engaged” – 

everyone knows you’re getting married, 

but you haven’t actually exchanged the ring – you come too.

Greg calls this series “Building a Eucharistic Marriage,” 

which is a great thing to emphasize. 

In fact, I don’t know how you can do it any other way.

What does it mean to say, our marriage is “Eucharistic”?

Well, that’s what Greg is going to explore over seven weeks.

But it seems to me that you can’t do it without the Cross – 

without putting the Cross right at the center.

And that’s what Saint Paul is talking about in the second reading.

The Cross is at the center – not only of a marriage, but everything, 

because God saw the mess we human beings had made – 

of our relationship with him and with each other –

and he knew that the only remedy was the Cross.

God planted the Cross at the center of human history,

And then he put himself – God put himself! – on that Cross.

So when we talk about the Holy Eucharist,

Remember that the Mass and our sharing in the Mass, 

in the Holy Communion, is all about the Cross.

OK, so then what?

See, the other readings are about the problems the Cross solves:

And what are those? Our sin problem, which means our fighting with, 

and hurting each other problem; 

our gossip and backbiting and blaming problem; 

our resentment and retaliation and vengeance problem…

which is what splits families and creates feuds, 

and eventually means violence and war.

The Cross is the remedy – and it is the only remedy.

But the Cross means surrender and turning the other cheek 

and forgiving them, Father, because they know not what they do.

See, the Pharisees – like us! – we always saying, “But he did…” 

and “She was always…” and “You don’t realize how terrible they were!”

And Jesus’ answer is, I’m God, I see it all; believe me, 

I know exactly how bad people can be!

And when Jesus is willing to pay for it all, with his life, on the Cross, 

then Jesus gets to forgive, and we don’t get to complain about that.

Well, let me correct that: sure, we can complain if we want;

But we’ll be complaining from hell, 

because you and I don’t get forgiven, ourselves, 

if we don’t share it as generously with others.

That’s the whole deal: 

“forgive us our trespasses, 

as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

So I keyed all this off the program with Greg Schutte – 

starting this coming Friday – about making our marriages “Eucharistic.”

But the Eucharist – and marriage – isn’t just the Cross – 

it’s Resurrection; and resurrection is about heaven.

It’s not only about the sins and baggage of our past;

it’s even more about God giving us grace 

for the daily hard work of conversion, 

or change, of conquering bad habits and dying to self 

and becoming the saint God knows you and I can be.

See, again, the pharisees – and this can easily be us! –

were only seeing how people were failing to be holy.

Jesus was saying to them, what I’m interested in is conversion;

Not what people were, but what they can be.

This is where, I think, so many people 

misunderstand the sacrament of confession. 

For so many, it’s all about getting forgiven, 

which – don’t get me wrong, is awesome!

But that’s like clearing the table before the meal.

The main thing – the central point – of the sacrament of confession, 

and really, our whole Catholic Faith, is to change: to become saints!

So the grace of the sacrament of confession first takes away our sins.

We are free of guilt! That is awesome! 

And I don’t mean just the sins you remember; ALL our sins.

One confession takes them all away.

But we need something else: to be new people, going in a new direction.

To overcome vice and habit and self-love;

And while forgiveness is instant, conversion takes time.

And God, in his mercy, even gives us Purgatory as a way to finish up.

But Purgatory, too, is about conversion: making you and me saints.

I don’t know if Greg will touch on any of this in his series,

But I’m guessing he will.

And if you’re preparing for marriage, and certainly if you are married, 

you already know all about needing to change, and needing to forgive.

Letting go of the past? You’re thinking, hmm, yeah, that’s a thing.

So sign up: just call or email the parish office. 

There’s no charge, but we’re asking the couples 

to bring some snacks and stuff to share, it’ll be a nice date-night.

And, date-night? I could do a whole homily on that, but I’m overtime.

Still, a chance to remind yourself why you fell for her, for him?

To remember why you wanted to give each other everything?

It might start as purgatory, but it ends in heaven!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

Let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: people say, 

“Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” Of course it is hard. That’s the point.

Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 

Forgiveness does not mean the other person did not hurt you, 

nor does it minimize the wrong. 

Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.

Let me also add, that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. 

Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

but still feels terrible about it, for a while at least.

That’s normal.

So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

And I mean, more than once. Ask, ask and ask again.

We can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 

This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 

Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?


This is a good time to remember something 

The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories;

Namely, that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 

It may not make you feel good.

But God’s grace will always bring you closer to him.

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!

A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” That’s how you start. 

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 

That’s right; think about hell.

I suspect a lot of people don’t take hell seriously.

They figure only people like Hitler go there, that’s it.

The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

And he is always warning ordinary people about hell.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

Let’s try (count to ten).

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 

Right? Because you don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 

That means wishing those people in hell. 

Or, do you mean you want God to forgive, while you refuse? 

That means you want God and that person to be friends, 

but you don’t want to be part of it? 

Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. They go to hell!

And if we hold on to them, so will we.

See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

Well, that’s where we are measured by strict justice; 

no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get precisely what we deserve. 

So, if you have wronged no one, and have a perfect score, 

you can apply for the Justice Plan.

Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,

you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 

without exception. 

Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!

It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 

You want mercy? Show mercy, even to your enemies.

In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 

to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

And if we do that, you and I are accepting the Mercy Plan. 

We’re receiving infinite, precious, eternal-life-giving Mercy!

Do you want Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Practicing trust as we watch over each other (Sunday homily)

 The first reading – about a watchman, looking out for Israel –

got me thinking: who is our watchman?

Who is supposed to be looking out for us, 

warning this community against danger?

I guess that would include me, as the pastor of this parish.

It would include our mayor and school superintendent 

and those who work with them.

And for each of our families, it’s you mom and dads.

We have this virus which has been hanging around too long,

and we’re all sick and tired of it, but it hasn’t gone away.

On the contrary, just in the last couple of weeks, 

it’s finally showing up in Russia.

I find myself wondering if I failed to be vigilant enough.

Our seminarian, Isaiah, is going to be quarantined 

because he sat with someone at breakfast last week; 

he’s living in one part of the rectory, and I’m at the other end.

And while it doesn’t appear that I have to quarantine, 

I’ll take a few extra precautions for the next week or so.

I won’t be distributing Holy Communion, 

so I ask for an extra helper to come forward.

Meanwhile, our school is trying very hard to be vigilant; so is the mayor.

And they, in turn, must rely on state authorities 

who provide the guidance on how best to manage these things.

All this involves the question of trust: do we trust each other?

It doesn’t take long before trust breaks down.

There’s not a lot of trust for the governor and his staff;

or for the people in Washington.

Does anyone trust the media anymore?

So when the governor – and the Archbishop – 

ask us to wear masks and not crowd together,

a lot of people don’t want to listen.

I see friends of mine on Facebook circulating things 

about how this is all fake, the numbers are all skewed, 

and masks are terrible – and forgive me for asking, but: 

why do trust these sources you’re circulating?

I get pills at the pharmacy and I trust they will give me the right ones. 

What else can I do? 

It’s not about blind trust, or unconditional trust.

It’s just that, like it or not, we simply can’t function 

without a fair amount of trust; there is no choice. 

So when it comes to the governor or the Archbishop,

Or the school or your boss – or me, your pastor –

it is 1,000% certain that everyone involved is going to make mistakes.

The reason we follow our leaders isn’t because they are so wise, 

or so beyond reproach; that rarely happens.

You and I listen and try to cooperate 

because a nation, a society, cannot function without trust;

and it’s the same for this community.

And right now, with greater incidents of this virus,

some of the trust we take for granted is fraying.

The easy thing at a moment like this is to see who is to blame.

Who didn’t enforce precautions well enough? Who didn’t listen?

This is a really good time to notice something else Jesus gives us: 

a way to combat the special virus of gossip.

Notice Jesus’ advice is the opposite of what we prefer to do.

Jesus says, go directly to that person.

We would much rather go talk to everyone else about it.

Understandable, but it only makes things worse.

This covid virus is a serious thing. Most of us will be fine,

but some are vulnerable;

and going the extra mile, if for no other reason but 

to ease the anxieties of others 

sounds to me like a pretty Christian thing to do.

So, to that end, I want to reiterate some of the precautions, 

which we’ve been slack about lately.

I ask that we keep the ropes on the pews in place 

and continue to spread out.

Some of us may have to sit outside, 

that avoids crowding into the back of the church.

I am not going to force anyone to wear a mask, I’m just asking.

If you are able, maybe come to Mass during the week instead.

And when it comes to events at the hall, we have hard limits.

If you have an issue with that, don’t blame our hall manager,

blame me: I’m the one setting the policy.

Also, for those who distribute Holy Communion, 

please use hand sanitizer, please wear a mask,

and please frequently sanitize your fingers 

with the disinfectant provided in these silver bowls.

This virus problem has gone on way too long, and we’re all frustrated.

It won’t go on forever. 

And this I can say with absolute confidence:

If you and I keep praying and keep close to Jesus,

These trials WILL help us grow in holiness.

It is already happening in ways we can’t see yet.

But I can tell you: more people are coming to confession, 

all during this period.

Keep good cheer and good humor.

And let’s each be a watchman looking out for each other.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Let's talk about fear (Sunday homily)

 Why did Peter react as he did – in this Gospel?

Was he afraid? Because, if Jesus was going to be arrested and killed, 

it would be natural for Peter and the other disciples 

to fear being killed along with him.

And after all, when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied the Lord, 

and all but one of the other apostles ran away. 

“Fear” is a really good subject to talk about right now, 

between the concerns about the Covid virus, 

and what’s happening in the economy, 

and the violence and disorder in so many places, 

and a national election on top of all that. 

I’ll say again what I’ve said before: 

if you find you are weighed down with fear, or anger, 

maybe turn off the TV news? 

Maybe spend less time on social media? 

This is a good time to recall the virtue of prudence, 

which is not the same thing as fear, 

but I think a lot of people are lumping them together.

Prudence is how we try to keep some balance, 

And make careful choices – but prudence always keeps its head. 

Prudence doesn’t give up and doesn’t run away;

Prudence doesn’t panic; prudence keeps calm and finds another way.

Because, after all, the rock beneath prudence is faith.

Now, just to be clear, taking precautions doesn’t mean you lack faith. 

Is it a lack of faith to put on a seatbelt? 

That sounds more like presumption.

Remember when the devil tempted Jesus and said,

Jump off the temple, the angels will save you!

And Jesus said, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.

Faith is having trust and confidence in God, first and last;

Not that he’ll prevent all trouble, but that trouble can’t separate us.

That trust, that faith, is what keeps us calm, no matter what.

The apostles were slow to learn this, but eventually they did: 

that if they are with Jesus, there is NOTHING to fear.

This makes me think of Maximilian Kolbe, who was in a death camp.

The worst place on earth; hell on earth.

And yet he kept calm, how? Because he knew Jesus was with him;

And nothing the Nazis could do to him could change that.

Thinking again about Good Friday:

Did you ever notice that while we know the apostles ran away,

we know nothing about what they were doing, 

and even more, what they were thinking? 

They had been with Jesus day and night for three years,

and I wonder if – when they ran and hid – 

that sudden separation from Jesus horrified them far more 

than their fear of suffering, and even death?

Because after the Resurrection, they never ran away again.

They all faced death for Jesus, with complete calm.

Notice in today’s Gospel, Jesus doubles down on the Cross 

after Peter says what he says. 

Not only is the Cross in view for Jesus, 

the cross lies ahead for you and me.

There is no other way.

It’s not that our Lord is cruel; 

Rather, Jesus knows we will cling to everything: 

our stuff – and the more we have, the more we cling to it – 

or to our health, or our careers, 

or our expectations about the election, 

or our grudges and hurts, and above all, to our pride! 

We cling to it all, and only when we let go can we take hold of Christ!

That’s what the Cross does for us: it means letting go, 

and finally, all we have left is Christ. 

So: we’re riding a roller-coaster these days. Keep calm.

There’s nothing that can happen to any of us or all of us together 

that is bigger than Jesus, that is more than Jesus can handle. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

What you are and what your mission is (Sunday homily)

Every year at this time, we remember the solemn dedication

of this church as a sacred place.

That idea of a place – a building – being sacred and set apart – 

is very important, but it’s not that common in our American society.

We are more likely to treat a building as merely functional:

Maybe something sacred happens there, 

but the building itself isn’t necessarily important. 

This reflects the predominant religious culture of our country,

which is deeply Protestant. 

Most Protestant traditions simply don’t have this concept 

of a place being permanently and essentially holy. 

In fact, when the Protestant “Reformation” spread,

there was a concerted effort to undo this sense of sacred place,

because it was so deeply Catholic; that’s why so many ancient churches 

were either destroyed, or stripped bare.

So, back to the present: if you visit many Protestant churches, 

don’t be surprised to see people drinking coffee during the “service.”

I am not mocking them; they are being true to their understanding. 

Let’s admit that this mindset has found its way into Catholic parishes. 

This happened for two reasons.

First, in recent decades, there was a concerted effort 

by some of our bishops and priests 

to emulate what they saw in these Protestant churches.

So has this happened to you?

You’re on vacation, and you go hunting for the nearby Catholic church, 

and you almost drive past it: why?

Church A, Church B, Church C – they all look the same?

Then you step inside, and you look around:

Everything is kind of plain, no votive candles, barely any statues, 

instead of an altar there’s just this big table, 

and you can’t figure out where the tabernacle is. 

Later, you find Jesus down the hall in a room with a couple of chairs.

To be fair, this didn’t start in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Go back to the 1950s when there was a baby boom,

and the suburbs exploded, and bishops were racing 

to build parishes and parish schools right and left.

Many times they would build a “church” 

that they intended would later be the gym or a cafeteria –

so it wouldn’t really look or feel like a church; it would be…”functional.”

But sometimes it took a while to build the “real” church – 

Or they never got around to it –

And a generation or two grew up with this same functional mindset.

So given this context, what we do this weekend 

is all the more important:

to remind ourselves about this Catholic way 

of claiming parts of this world for heaven.

This is what the temple, mentioned in the scriptures, was:

Heaven on earth – a kind of re-experiencing of Paradise,

where God and humanity walked together.

So notice when Jesus purifies the temple, 

he is furious that this sacred, heavenly place – 

has been turned into what? A “marketplace.”

There’s nothing wrong with a marketplace.

But this place is consecrated for one, specific thing:

to make sacrifice to God; to enter into his Presence.

And then Jesus makes a cryptic comment,

that the Apostles later realize refers to himself:

He, Jesus, is the true and final temple;

the one the Jerusalem temple was meant to foreshadow.

That old temple was, in fact, destroyed;

and the temple of Jesus’ body was, indeed, raised up in three days.

Think of it: could any “temple” or church be more sacred 

than the Body of Jesus itself? 

When you and I think in those terms, 

there is absolutely no room for any functional or worldly mindset.

But now, as we think about it, how exactly is Jesus’ Body a temple?

A building you can walk into, kneel down and pray.

But Jesus’ Body as a temple: how does that work?

The answer is, there is no other sacrifice – no doves or sheep – 

because Jesus himself is the sacrifice; he’s the Lamb of God.

To pray in the “Temple of Jesus” is simply to be in union with him, 

to pray as he prays…

And how do we do that? That’s baptism!

Saint Peter tells us, in another place, you and I become “living stones”!

So back to where I started: you know what’s not merely functional?

Not just this church; YOU! You aren’t merely functional!

You and I are sacred; we’ve been claimed; set apart;

we are destined for heaven, and indeed, in a mysterious but true way, you and I are already there! 

Yes, we can forget that, and profane ourselves;

But the fact remains that Jesus has claimed us,

And he wants us to be part of the temple of his Body.

Meanwhile, Jesus is still setting living stones in place.

In some paradoxical way, the temple isn’t complete.

Our mission is to help him gather those “stones” – 

those people – he intends to consecrate and set in place.

And that is why, 174 years ago, this parish was founded, here;

to gather living stones, here.

And it’s why we’re still here; Jesus is still building his Church!

What’s your mission, today, tomorrow and every day?

No matter who you are, no matter how young or old, 

no matter what limits you face,

can you help this happen? Of course!

You are a living stone: it’s not about your “function,” 

But what you are; so be faithful.

You are a witness: 

either you and I add beauty to his Temple, or we detract from it. 

Let people see who you really are, 

sacred and set apart to show Christ to the world.

That’s how we gather the stones and build his Temple.

Note: I don't know why Blogger imposes this formatting on me -- i.e., the double-spacing you can see above. The only way I know to get rid of it is laborious and I just don't have time for that right now. If anyone has a suggestion, I'll be grateful for it. Feel free to post a comment.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

You are the Chosen People and a chosen witness (Sunday homily)

Several years ago, while making a trip to the Holy Land, 
 I changed planes in France, and while waiting for my flight, 
a group of Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the gate. 
As they, too, waited, they gathered in a corner to pray together. 
Like you would be, I was curious, but I did not want to stare. 
Above all, I respected and admired their zeal. 

In the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that to be a Christian 
means being grafted into the “vine” of Israel. 
The Jewish People are God’s Chosen People, 
and one of the things Jesus came to do was to extend that chosenness to all humanity. 
That’s what the first reading foresees. 
Keep this in mind as we look at this strange episode in the Gospel. 

Lots of people think Jesus is denigrating this woman, 
and that he is not interested in welcoming her. 
But that misreads what’s going on. So why does he speak this way? 

One of the main things the Gospels show us is how the Apostles grow in faith – 
and how Jesus repeatedly challenges their narrowness. 
That’s what’s happening here. 

Notice, the Lord lets the Apostles speak first. What do they say? “Send her away”; 
That’s what they said last week about the hungry crowds: “Send them away.” 

What you hear Jesus say, out loud, is what’s in the Apostle’s hearts. 
He says it out loud, precisely to draw out this woman’s greater faith. 
Jesus knew all along what he was going to do for her; 
but he also wants to get the Apostles past their narrow vision. 
And, if you read ahead to the Book of Acts, they get there; 
but here, they are still stumbling. 

All these readings in different ways give us a vision: 
one day, all that divides us, all the issues of race and history, 
language, and past hurts and hates, will no longer matter. 

In Bible times, the idea that Jews and Gentiles could be one was CRAZY! 
Two thousand years later, we’re not there yet. 
Meanwhile, of course, we’ve discovered other ways to be prejudiced. 
One of the easiest things we humans do – and love to do – 
is to divide up against each other. 

Look at the yelling people do over this virus. 
It’s not real, it’s overblown, some say. 
Others are shocked by a lack of vigilance and get into fights at stores. 

Meanwhile there are forces in our country 
who want to turn black against white, rural against urban. 
Lots of us don’t even want to admit who we’ll vote for. 

I am not trivializing these issues. 
But see how much you and I are like those people back then? 
Overcoming these things will be impossible without God’s help. 

Meanwhile, back to those men I saw in the airport. 
In a real way, you and I have the exact same vocation: 
Keep praying. Keep faithful. Keep bearing witness. 
Don’t be afraid to stand out.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mary's victory and ours (Assumption homily)

The first reading from Revelation presents vivid images— 
it helps if we try to see what it’s describing: 
A sign in heaven: the ark of the covenant—a woman, with child! 
But the scene does not stay peaceful: a huge, red dragon. 
The dragon with seven crowns stands for all that tries to rule us, 
to displace Christ as the true king. 
And this fake king still sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven,
and seems poised to devour the Child. 

Does it not often seem that evil is winning? 
Do we not often fear that our hope will be devoured?
We wonder why God doesn’t win the way we think he should. 

But God acts, and saves the Child, and the Woman flees to the desert. 
This of course is Jesus, and his mother Mary.
She is also an image of the Church, because she is Jesus’ first and best disciple. 
She is a symbol of us, challenged by evil, yet faithfully waiting. 

So what does all this have to do with the Feast of the Assumption?
Today, you and I celebrate Mary’s complete victory – she is home! 
At the same time, we are reassured the same victory lies ahead for us.

When I was a seminarian, I spent a year in Piqua as an intern – 
 just as Isaiah Callan will be doing here, starting in a week or so. 
Often I would give lessons to the school children – 
again, as Isaiah will also be doing. 
One day my task was to explain what we believe about Mary to first graders. 
Not an easy task! 

So I arranged a skit. One child would be the Angel Gabriel; 
one child would be Mary; and to one child, I said, 
“you’re Jesus in heaven; watch as Gabriel asks Mary to have you as a baby. 
Listen for Mary’s answer—and without words, show your reaction. 
So: Gabriel asked, then Mary said, “yes,” 
And then the child who was “Jesus” started jumping up for joy! 

There it is, even a child gets it: we Christians ache with love for Mary. 
And Jesus gets it too; how can a grateful Son not lavish gifts on his mother? 
We believe, as St. John Damascene said, 
It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth 
should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death; 
It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child on her breast 
should dwell in the tabernacles of God. 
It was necessary that she who had gazed on her crucified Son 
and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow… 
should contemplate him seated with the Father. 
It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, 
and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God. 

 As Mary herself said: “All generations will call me blessed.” 
Today you and I happily fulfill that prophecy.

Monday, August 10, 2020

'Emergency' and schism: Father Leatherby of Sacramento

One of the ideas making the rounds these days -- although it isn't a new idea -- is that when things get bad enough, you are justified in doing things that otherwise would be wrong. I'll skip over the granular examination of this idea, other than to quote Pope St. John Paul II Paul VI: "it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf.Rom.3:8)."* What gets us in trouble is when we feel a kind of panic over things seemingly being out of control, so that we're tempted to take extreme action. 

Many Catholics feel this temptation as well, including priests. So consider the case of Father Jerry Leatherby, who has been declared excommunicate by his bishop, Jaime Soto of Sacramento. What did Father Leatherby do? According to the bishop's letter:

Fr. Leatherby has violated my instructions by offering Mass and teaching publicly to a number of the faithful. He has instructed them against the legitimacy of His Holiness, Pope Francis. He has substituted the Holy Father’s name with the name of his predecessor, and omitted my name during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer while offering Mass. After obstinately not responding to a number of my inquiries by telephone and correspondence, he has now confirmed his schismatic stance. Because of the grave scandal of these actions I have no recourse but to announce publicly the consequence of his decisions: He has brought upon himself an automatic latae sententiae excommunication.

What does Father Leatherby say of his actions? Here's a letter purporting to be in his own hand, in which he relates the following:

- Several years ago he was accused of unspecified misconduct with an adult female, and was suspended from active ministry.

- He violated "boundaries" with that woman and sincerely regrets those wrongs.

- Father Leatherby waited and continues to wait for the opportunity to defend himself; in the meantime, he felt terribly isolated, and has been unfairly and falsely accused of various things.

- He was "on the way out of the priesthood."

- When the covid virus struck, Father Leatherby judged the situation to be dire enough -- with the faithful unable to attend Mass and not partake of the sacraments -- that he should bring the Eucharist to people in individual cases.

- When this proved impractical, he began inviting people to join him at Mass, even as (a) public Masses in general were suspended, and (2) he himself was suspended from celebrating Mass publicly.

- He consciously omitted reference to Pope Francis in the Eucharistic prayer, choosing to offer Mass instead "in union with Pope Benedict" -- because he does not recognize Francis as the successor of Saint Peter.

I wouldn't blog about this sad case, except that this process of reasoning is not unusual: i.e., things are so bad that I'm not only permitted to do what otherwise I ought not to, but indeed, I am compelled. This is a very seductive temptation, and many of the faithful can be sucked in by it. But it is a temptation, and it is wrong. Let me illustrate why. 

(And, by the way, I know there is more to Father Leatherby's story; there's always more to every story. Was this connected to his father blowing the whistle on misconduct by others? Was the bishop unfair to Father Leatherby? Is Father's account of his situation accurate? I don't have access to enough information to answer those questions, so I'm not addressing them. Moreover, to the point I am making, they are finally irrelevant.)

Let us (for sake of argument) take at face value Father Leatherby's complaint that he has been treated unfairly; and respond that this is wrong, and those who have been unjust to him, if deliberate, have their own sins to repent of. I do not have a heart of stone, and I can only imagine this priest's suffering, and that makes me feel great sympathy. Nevertheless, those injustices cannot justify any injustice of his own, namely, disobedience and schism.

But it was an emergency! People weren't able to receive the sacraments! Indeed, and church law addresses this: a suspended, or even "laicized" priest can provide sacraments in danger of death; not in a case of generalized emergency. That's not what this priest did.

Look: I know a lot of the faithful think the bishops erred terribly in suspending the public celebration of the Mass, and other sacraments, in the context of the spread of Covid-19. Let me just point out that such actions are not unprecedented; St. Charles Borromeo did similar things in his time. And let's acknowledge that there's a big difference between saying no public Masses, versus no sacraments at all. I simply don't know what the Bishop of Sacramento decreed in this regard; I know what I and other priests in Ohio were told: no public Masses and other liturgies; but other sacraments could go on, with great care. So, for example, the sacraments of baptism, anointing and confession went on. Funerals happened, but with great restrictions; and I testify here and now that nothing in the directives I received said I could not give Holy Communion in individual cases. And Mass itself was not suspended, only being present at it by the faithful was suspended. These restrictions caused suffering, yes! But this is not a complete suspension of the sacraments. 

And in any case, none this has any bearing on Father Leatherby, because he, himself, was suspended. He may believe this suspension was unjust; nevertheless, he was bound to obey it.

And let me say out loud what I suspect, but cannot prove, because it's a counterfactual: had Father Leatherby merely brought Holy Communion to people in individual cases, and along the way heard confessions or given anointing, this would not have come to a head. What surely forced the bishop's hand was celebrating Masses with up to 350 people present -- during a pandemic when all other public Masses were suspended! -- and omitting Pope Francis's name from the canon. Father Leatherby may think he had no other choice, but he is simply wrong in that belief.

What about the pope? Is Francis really so terrible that Father Leatherby (and others) are justified in refusing to recognize him?

In a word: NO. This is exact same temptation and same error.

Let us consider several scenarios, which which I stress are hypothetical. In no way am I accusing Pope Francis of anything. But let's spin out the scenarios based on what others find troubling, and therefore, lead them to entertain Father Leatherby's line of thinking.

What if Pope Francis believes and allows terrible things, or does them himself?

Tell me: when were we promised that no pope would ever sin, even gravely? When were promised no pope would publicly engage in scandalous behavior, or encourage others to do so? This largely recapitulates Protestant attacks on the papacy: they point to examples (real or exaggerated or false) of bad popes and say the papacy must be false. And what has always been our response? That when the Lord Jesus entrusted Peter (and his successors) with special authority, it was to govern, and teach, and that when the pope would teach publicly, in a formal way, he would be preserved from error (i.e., infallibility). You can look all this up in the Catechism; we don't believe that popes can't be terrible people who sin gravely, or even -- shocking to consider -- they, themselves, might voice erroneous ideas, or tolerate those who do.

When Peter denied Jesus, were the Apostles justified in rejecting Peter as the head of the college? How about when Paul confronted Peter about his cowardly behavior regarding Gentile believers and those who demanded those believers be circumcised (see Paul's letter to the Galatians)? No: despite his failures, Peter was still pope.

And in any case -- and I do mean, any case -- what necessity compels you, or me, or any priest, or any Catholic, to render a judgment on whether Francis is pope? The college of cardinals met and elected him, after Benedict, before the world, resigned. Please do not waste everyone's time with conspiracy theories and obscure claims of knowledge! Even if you are right, how can you be sure? And how can I be sure? Do you actually think God operates this way? That he expects you to search the cobwebby crevices of the Internet and patch together a Rube Goldbergian theory to explain why Benedict is still pope? Or maybe the last pope was John Paul II? Or Paul VI? Or Pius XII? See where this goes? What sort of God do you think we serve, that he faults us for not putting faith in such tales?

Remember: most Christians, up to the present moment, have never had access to such abundance of information as many of us engorge ourselves with. So even those who think they are well informed, can only say they are well informed about the present times; they do not have comparable information about the past, and therefore, they are wrong when they breathlessly say, "this is the worst EVER!" How can they know? And how can they really know they have even the full story about present things? Ah, see the problem with giving credence to "hidden hands" and unseen explanations? 

The college of cardinals elected a pope, who calls himself Francis. As far as I can see, and as far as my bishop -- who I am convinced is a bishop (or maybe not! See where this leads us?) -- can see, Francis is pope, and so I recognize him. If these fantastical claims of widespread conspiracy are true, then the sin lies with the conspiracists, not with the faithful who manifest humble obedience.

If Pope Francis or my bishop -- or yours -- says or does something you or I cannot stomach, then do not stomach them. That is, weigh them, applying the most charitable reading, make sure you have all the facts, and if you don't agree, then...don't agree. I don't have to publicize all these things -- nor do you -- but if asked, I try my best to be charitable, truthful, prudent and humble. That means say no more than necessary, give the benefit of the doubt, allow that you may be mistaken, and be respectful. 

If the pope, or the bishop, or president or governor or mayor tells you to do something you must not do, or forbids you to do something truly necessary, then we must disobey. But these circumstances are actually extremely rare. 

For example, the Archbishop wants me to wear a mask at various times, including when celebrating the sacraments. You or I may think this misguided or silly, but it does not violate any moral law, and therefore, I have no just basis to object: so I wear the mask out of obedience. When I get out of breath, I take it off. 

The Archbishop, after all, is doing this out of obedience to civil authority. The bishops are accused of being cowardly toward government, but this is more than I know, as I cannot read their souls. If they are, then they will answer for that before God. But what is plain enough -- and it really is enough -- is that they are practicing the exact same virtue of obedience. Public authorities have the responsibility of safeguarding public health, and so they issue orders to do this or that in response to a pandemic. Maybe their advisors are misguided; perhaps their motives are tainted, or they are overreacting. Is it possible their policies are uneven and unjust? Certainly. And thus there is recourse: we can speak out, we can seek legal redress, and we can seek to minimize, in legal and moral ways, the negative consequences.

Let me close by pointing out two things that get overlooked with this sort of thinking. First, we miss that that all this is a temptation; the enemy always wants to sow discord and use these circumstances to lead us into vice. How often we use "stress" and "this is an exceptional situation" as an excuse for any number of sins! Don't play the devil's game.

Second, when we are casting about for rationales for doing things we otherwise must not do, we treat with contempt those avenues that are always open to us, and which no one can shut: the power of prayer and personal holiness. I don't mean to pick on Father Leatherby, who I think has suffered greatly and I suspect is in agony over his choices; I pray for him to find the right path. But it is not true that he had no choice, no other recourse, and it is simply never true for us. Nothing keeps us from growing in our own holiness, and nothing keeps us from fervent prayer, but we ourselves. What does it say that we think these options aren't sufficient?

*I always thought it was JPII, in Veritatis Splendor, but it turns out he simply quoted Paul VI. Maybe you thought the same.