Sunday, April 05, 2020

Palm Sunday Mass at Saint Remy

Holy Week in Purgatory (Sunday homily)

The homily for Palm Sunday must always be brief, including this year, 
because right after this, the seminarians and I will take 
the Holy Eucharist over to St. Remy Hall, 
and we will all be able to adore our Lord Jesus 
outside from about 8 am to Noon, as we’ve done the past two Sundays.

As you know by now, this will continue at least until May 3; 
so we’ll continue to have exposition each Sunday at St. Remy Hall. 
It’s going to be rainy today, but you can stay in your car.

I can only imagine how difficult these days are for you at home. 
On one hand, I have nothing to complain about: I feel very healthy, 
and I have everything I need. And yet, I miss being with you. 

Confessions continue at all the regular times, 
and during Holy Week, we will have extra times as follows: 
Tuesday, 7-9 pm; Wednesday, 3-4 pm; 5:45-6:15 pm and 7-8 pm; 
Thursday, 5:30-6:30 pm; Good Friday, 11:30-12:30 and 3-4 pm; 
Holy Saturday, 9-10:30 am and 3:30-5 pm. 

I am hearing confessions in the room behind the Mary statue. 
And if anyone needs me to come visit, please call and let me know.

I emphasize confession for two reasons. 
First, obviously, in a time of greater danger, 
why wouldn’t each of us want to be in a state of grace?
And second, a good confession can only help each of us 
work together better, being more patient and generous.

We will continue to have Mass every day, broadcast at least 
on Facebook and if possible on YouTube. We’ll be back in church on Thursday evening. 

In other words, you and I are trying to carry on as best we can.

When I say that some Masses will be in church, 
Even so, these are not open to the public; 
for those hours, the doors will be shut.
I say that with the greatest sadness 
and I beg you to forgive me for that, 
but it’s what we must do right now. I’m so very sorry. 

Holy Week is always about loss and sorrow, 
and what you and I are facing now 
is a Holy Week that began several weeks ago, 
and looks to extend beyond Easter Sunday. 

But no matter how alarming things may be, 
nothing changes the fact that the path we tread 
has been walked ahead of us by Jesus, 
and there is nothing you and I will face alone! 

This year Good Friday is going to be amped way up in intensity, 
but that only helps us realize more what the first Good Friday was like. 
In short, you and I are carrying the Cross with Jesus!
Like Simon of Cyrene, we weren’t looking for this, but here we are.

Never forget: we are walking with Jesus! 
What is there to be afraid of?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Jesus is more powerful than anything -- including this virus (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel, there is one detail I want to zero in on.
It says, Jesus became “perturbed and deeply troubled.” 
A moment later, it says he became “perturbed again.”

Another way to say it is that he became exasperated or angry.
But why?

All around Jesus at this moment is death.
The house of his friends that had been bright with hospitable joy 
is now dreary with grief and tears. 

Into this scene comes Jesus, who IS Life: 
true Life, Life at the source, the fullness and completion of life.
As he said: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.”
He knows who he is and what he came to give;
And that brilliance of Light is being smothered with sorrow.

So Jesus reacts: he feels their grief – he is affected by it – 
and yet he also rebels against it. 

He tells Martha, “your brother will rise”; and she says yes, someday.
Then Jesus says: I AM the Resurrection; I AM Life!

It’s hard to grasp. That is why he is frustrated.

The key point – which you and I must keep remembering – 
Is that Jesus changes EVERYTHING. 
Even death, which for humanity is absolute – is overthrown.

Every once in a while we see people who really see it.
Death does not frighten them. They are at peace.
This is what we see in the martyrs.
I have seen this many times when giving the anointing of the sick; 
This is one of the graces this sacrament offers us.

So, in our situation today, with so much uncertainty,
And with many people badly caught up in fear,
It’s critical to see Jesus changing everything.
This virus and all the trouble it is causing is nothing up against Jesus!

It is a bitter thing that we cannot have Holy Mass together.
But nothing keeps us from holding Jesus close.
I am so glad to bring Holy Mass to you via the Internet.
This won’t go on forever. We WILL be together again soon.

In the meantime, after this Mass, 
we will be able to be with Jesus at St. Remy Hall from 8 am to Noon.
It may be rainy or cold, but he is the Life and the Resurrection, 
who cares about that? 

Remember to keep a safe distance – not from Jesus, but each other – 
and if others are waiting, let’s try to be brief. 
There is room for people to park and remain in their cars. 

Jesus is more powerful than this virus! Nothing is greater than He!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus: God's wrath or God's mercy?

Whenever bad things happen -- a flood, earthquake, or the current pandemic -- the inevitable question arises for many: is God punishing us? Is this God's wrath?

This calls to mind a talk I heard Dr. Scott Hahn give a few years ago, at a conference for priests. We were looking at St. Paul's letter to the Romans; and as he went through the particular passage (Romans 1:18-32), I was struck by something that seemed so obvious once he said it, namely: that God's wrath is not to send punishments, but rather, to leave us be.

Here's the passage with key ideas bolded:

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. 

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Do you see it? God's wrath isn't to send disasters and trouble, but simply to let us have what we want: we become "vain" in our reasoning; our minds become "darkened." And we foolishly go slavering after all the evil things we want. "God hands us over"! Paul says it three times.

This turns upside-down our usual thinking, doesn't it? When everything is going along so swimmingly -- the economy roaring, people getting more prosperous and having more food and leisure time than ever -- we say, look, God is blessing us! And, in a sense, that's true; but look at it through the lens of this reading: if these things are happening (as they have) to a nation that is promoting abortion, pornography, sodomy, denying God's design of male and female, and increasingly absorbed by greed, sloth, wrath, gluttony, lust, envy and pride -- maybe it's something else?

Maybe it's God's handing us over? Maybe it's wrath?

By the way, this accords with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who explains that one of the punishments for sin is that we want that sin even more; particular sins, when repeated, lead to vice, and that is a punishment. It's the same idea.

So if the good times were wrath, then what is the coronavirus?

It is a mercy! Howso?

Because while continued good times let us go to sleep, trouble can wake us up. Maybe we will sleep away anyway; nevertheless a wake-up call is a sign of love.

This is a point I make all the time in the confessional: if you are wondering if God loves you, your presence in the confessional tells you the answer; he would not have stirred you up to come here if he did not love you.

Consider this:

“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards (Hebrews 12:5-8).

It seems to me that the trials our country and our world are facing sound more like the Hebrews passage. What do you think?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

We will WIN against this virus!

A lot of news is scary, so naturally a lot of people are scared. The news gets worse by the day (which is likely to continue for awhile, so brace yourself), so we can expect rising anxiety. What do we make of this?

How much trouble are we in? How bad will it be? Is this the end of our country, or even of the world?

Here is what I think:

Well, first and foremost, could this be The End? Maybe; how would I know? Jesus didn't even tell the Apostles, so he sure isn't telling me. But, as I go into below, I think that is unlikely.

So: be calm. Keep some perspective.

It occurs to me a lot of people, especially young people, may not know much history. If so, I can imagine how frightening this can be. Even President Trump, ever prone to exaggeration, said yesterday something like, nothing like this has ever happened before! With respect, he is wrong about that.

Quite aside from all the many bad things that happen all the time -- wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, droughts, floods -- terrible viruses and other dire health risks like Covid 19 have happened all through history. Such pestilence was quite common, and addingvto the terror was not knowing why they happened and when they would strike. This was true not only in the far past, but nearer to the present as well. Remember Ebola? That was and is a horrifying killer, but thankfully contained. Nevertheless, it reoccurs from time to time. But it hasn't happened in the U.S., so it hasn't seemed like the End of the World to us.

Yes, you say, but that didn't strike the whole world, what about that? My answer is, you mean like the Spanish Flu? Or two world wars, three if the Cold War counts as a world war (I think it does). The latter really did put us on the brink, more than once. Meanwhile, things like plague and smallpox ravaged the whole world, only not all at once.

We -- meaning humanity -- survived. We won, and are far stronger for it: i.e., our immunity.

All that said, let us frankly admit: you and I, and everyone around us, is going to die. It could easily be today, tomorrow, this week or this month or this year. BUT: it is unlikely to the extreme that it will happen to ALL or even more than a tiny fraction of us all at once. But yes, each of us WILL die, soon or late, and then?

Heaven! If we are in a state of grace! (Purgatory is a way-station along to Heaven.) Or, HELL if we are not. One great grace many, many are receiving right now is a keener awareness of death, inviting them to repent and find peace with the Lord Jesus, who is shockingly prodigal in mercy. Yes, in that sense, this crisis is a GRACE.

Meanwhile we have great reasons for confidence and courage. This virus is bad, but not omnipotent. We can and WILL defeat it. Look past so many screaming bad news notices for less trumpeted good news:

- People are responding generously and courageously. There are no riots. People are listening to our leaders and trying to do their part.

- Health care providers are running toward the fire, as are many others. Many of the Italian priests who died of coronavirus were chaplains. They ran to the fire.

- Meanwhile, many other sectors are rushing food, medicine and other supplies to market, and others are scrambling to ramp up production of ventilators, masks, and new treatments and a vaccine. The U.S. was the "Arsenal of Democracy" in WWIi, now we will be the Pharmacy of the World. It has already begun and it will be awesome. And we won't be alone.

With a lot of us cooped up at home, no doubt we are watching a lot of TV. This might not be the best time to watch movies like "Pandemic" or "The Andromeda Strain." On the other hand, it might be an excellent time to watch films like:

- "United 93"

- "For Greater Glory"

- "The Scarlet and the Black"

- "A Man for All Seasons"

- "A Beautiful Mind"

- "Remember the Titans"

- "Hoosiers"

- "Stand and Deliver"

-"Schindler's List"

- "Midway"

- "Dunkirk"

- "Darkest Hour"

This is only a quick-and-dirty list; some are religious, some are sports, some are war pictures; they are all about real people who won improbable victories against great enemies, the worst of which are fear and despair. And may I emphatically add, in no way do I deem our certain victory as "improbable"; but if you are brooding darkly, stories of easy triumphs will not be a strong enough tonic.

Let me close with a quote from Winston Churchill, the leader of Great Britain in WWIi, which he spoke to the Canadian Parliament as the war seemed bleakest:

"We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.

Can you really see? (Sunday homily)

The readings this Sunday could be summarized this way: 
there is seeing, and then there is really seeing. 

So, in the first reading, Samuel, despite being a faithful servant 
of God, still doesn’t see well enough. 
Then, of course, we have the Gospel. Who can really see there?

Jesus can. He knows exactly what this man needs, 
so he not only heals him, but he does it in a particular way, 
that he knows will be most helpful to this man.

And of course, the blind man sees. All the rest turn out to be blind.

What about the Apostles who are witnessing this? 
Their vision is cloudy, 
and this episode is aimed at helping them see, too.
Jesus is counting on them to be his true priests and true witnesses.
By Pentecost, they will be ready.

That leaves you and me? Do we see – really see? 
So often – and I am as guilty as anyone – 
we focus on all the wrong things.

So many of us are stuck at home, 
and at some point, we might feel sorry for ourselves, or get cranky. 
When I was a kid, I’d have had a bad attitude!
So maybe some of our younger folks are going through that, too.

Try to remember this is hard on almost everyone, 
and likely harder on many others than it is on you.
Of course you and I are unspeakably sad 
about not being together for Holy Mass. 
So I’m happy to share Mass with you in my little chapel at the rectory, 
and know this is happening everywhere. 
We may feel cut off, but we really aren’t! Remember that!

So despite all, let’s keep positive; that’s important.

Some people are tremendously worked up about this.
Maybe they fear God’s wrath, or the end of the world.
Here’s my response. First, bad things happen all the time; 
but they mostly happen somewhere else, to other people.

Second, we’ve been through way worse things, even in memory, 
such as the Spanish Flu 100 years ago, and two World Wars. 

Plagues and disease used to be constant threats, everywhere – 
and in many places, still are – 
but thanks to sanitary water and vaccines and antibiotics 
and other wonderful fruits of the talents God gave us,
we’ve forgotten about all that.

These trials remind us how much we take for granted, 
and how fragile this life really is. 
Maybe this tribulation will help us see things a lot more clearly. 
To see what really matters, and what is trivial noise and distraction. 
God, please deliver us from this trial! 
And grant that you and I can see what we really need to see. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I created a Youtube Channel to broadcast Holy Mass during the Crisis. Please subscribe!

This is a boring video but blessedly short. The thing is this: if I get 1,000 subscribers, I can broadcast live on Youtube, which will mean getting Holy Mass online from St. Remy for more people, right away. Otherwise the video will probably not be posted for many hours.

So please subscribe! It's free and no salesman will call.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Be not afraid!

Above is an image of a virus I found online; if you click on it, you'll go to the website where I found it. I have no idea what virus that is, or if it's an accurate image. I picked it because it looks pretty creepy to me. It reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the ship is invaded by some sort of virus that is huge -- globules of goo the size of house pets are floating around the ship! That's some scary stuff.

Are you scared? Are you dismissive? Are you angry? Lots of reactions are possible.

I know people who insist this is all over-hyped. Who knows? They may prove right. Here's the thing: I am not so smart or certain of myself that I'm going to counsel anyone to take this lightly. If I were the archbishop or governor or president, I couldn't let myself off that easily. But I'm not any of those people; they have a job to do, it's mighty difficult, and who am I to throw a spanner into the works?

In any case, as a parish priest, I don't have a lot of say in all this. I can rail against that, or I can keep busy with what I can do.

Here's what we're doing in St. Remy, and I imagine similar things are happening everywhere:

- Pretty much everything is cancelled, except confessions; we are going full-steam there.

- That said, confessions have moved to a larger, airier room, and I'm wiping surfaces down after each penitent.

- I'm offering Holy Mass every day from a sort-of chapel in my house, and broadcasting it on Facebook. Maybe it'll be on Youtube soon, we'll see.

- Our church and our parish office remain OPEN. My staff and I are trying to stay in touch with all our folks.

- We're trying to think of other ways to nourish folks' faith.

Sort of coincidentally, I betook myself to confession on Tuesday. I would have gone anyway, but it was striking to me that as everything seemed to be shutting down and closing in, I hurried to be absolved. Something for all of us to think about.

Now, let me offer some more positive thoughts:

- As bad as this is, it's nowhere near as bad as it could be. And yes, I'm assuming it won't get that bad, because of the many, many advantages we have.

- People who are acting as if this is unprecedented have short memories. Spanish Flu was pretty bad. Two world wars? Pretty bad. Most of human history, people have lived in fear of all manner of plagues and infections and such. They didn't have reliable, sanitary water; vaccines and antibiotics...

- Not to mention heat and electricity and the Internet and all the wonders of our modern world that reliably supply fresh food and other needs to all of us. Yes, it can all be taken away, the worst can happen, but that's pretty unlikely.

- There's a WHOLE LOT to be grateful for. A lot of people are working really hard to keep food coming, medical care coming, a future vaccine coming, and so forth and so on. Pray for all these people.

- Don't worry, pray! Pray also for those who are suffering, whether physically, spiritually or financially.

- Keep a good attitude, and be part of the solution.

We'll get through this.

Whoops! Time to go hear confessions!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

What is justification? (Sunday homily)

(This is the homily I was going to give this weekend, but events led to a change of course. I might as well post it. Oh, and why three pictures? Why not?)

The second reading mentions “justification” – 
we don’t talk about this often, 
so you might wonder just what that is.

From the Council of Trent and the Catechism we learn that 
"Justification is not only the remission of sins, 
but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” 

In other words, justification not only forgives us, but changes us.
The life of God is poured into our hearts and our lives.
In a word, we become saints. This happens in baptism.

Baptism! Ah, now you know why we heard the first reading 
and the Gospel, all about water. 
Of course, Jesus wasn’t just talking about ordinary water, 
but the water of the Holy Spirit.
And you and I “drink” this water first in baptism.

And as I said, in baptism we are justified; we become saints.

Sadly, you and I squander this inheritance through sin, 
but God in his incredible goodness gives us a way to renew it, 
and that is the sacrament of confession.

All the sacraments are about thirsting for this water God gives.
There’s a kind of paradox at work here: 
The Holy Spirit is the water of heaven that satisfies our thirst, 
and yet, in another way, he makes us want even more!

Saint Augustine said that the justification of sinners 
“is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth," 
because "heaven and earth will pass away 
but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away."

Two weeks ago I told you that Lent is about baptism, 
and here we see it again. 

Yet nearly all of us have already been baptized;
So for us, Lent is for reawakening that thirst for God,
For finding our way back to the well where Jesus waits for us,
Where he says, I have water no one else can give you.

There are so many things we get busy with, 
but really only one thing matters: sitting at the well, and saying to Him:
Lord, give me this water always!

I’m going to stop right here. Let’s sit down and let Jesus talk to us.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

How we'll get through the Coronavirus (Sunday homily)

I had a very different homily in mind for this Sunday, 
explaining “justification,” which we heard about from St. Paul. 
Very short answer:

Justification is God changing us from rebels to faithful children. 
From filthy to clean; from sinners to saints.
This happens to us first in baptism, 
and inasmuch as you and I frequently need to be renewed, 
again and again in confession.

That said, we need to review the changes taking effect 
because of concern about the coronavirus.

I’m working from this hot-pink sheet in today’s bulletin, 
but I am only hitting some of them; please still read this on your own: 

- At the order of the Archbishop, the obligation to attend 
Holy Mass is suspended through March 29. 
That means you do not HAVE to go. But no one is stopping you.

Please use good judgment. If you are sick or sniffly, stay home. Stay home if your age or health make you vulnerable.
But also, maybe someone else in your home is vulnerable, 
and by staying home, you keep others safer.

- If you are scheduled to assist at Mass in any way, 
and you aren’t coming, that’s OK, but please let the office know.

- All youth and religious education activities are cancelled 
until further notice. 
- Stations of the Cross on Thursday evenings is cancelled through the end of March.

- This week’s lunch for “over-70” parishioners is cancelled,
and tonight’s Spaghetti Dinner is postponed.

- All Mass times remain the same, including daily Mass. 
Changing times around risks even more confusion.

- Eucharistic Adoration will continue, but if you are scheduled 
and aren’t coming, please call the parish office.

- Confessions will continue at the usual times. 
In addition, I was planning to hear confessions for children 
in CCD, and even though CCD is cancelled, 
I’ll still be in the confessional at those times if you want to come. Times are listed on this sheet.

- I removed the holy water at the Archbishop’s direction.
If you bring me a container of water, I’ll bless it for you.

- The Archbishop asks not to hold hands during the Our Father, and not to shake hands at the Sign of Peace.

- We won’t distribute the Precious Blood at Mass; 
therefore, only one Eucharistic minister is needed at each Mass.

- The bread and wine won’t be brought forward at the offertory.

- The Archbishop asks that all receive the Sacred Host in the hand.
Now, I know some people feel strongly about this last issue, 
so let me add some commentary. 
It is actually a universal norm of the Church 
that people can receive the Eucharist on the tongue if they so desire; and Archbishop Schnurr has no wish to coerce anyone. 
So no one will be forced in this matter.

The issue is hygiene, and I will tell you as a priest, 
I am far more likely to touch your hand, than I am your tongue. 
That may surprise you, but that is my day-in, day-out experience.

For the sake of our kids who may be unsure 
about how to receive Holy Communion,
Let me do a quick review.

If you receive in the hand, please keep your hands flat, 
one on top of the other, and keep them nice and still.
No problem.
But if you cup your hands or bring them together quickly,
My hand is going to touch yours, it can’t be helped.

If you receive on the tongue, please open wide and put your tongue out, and remain still. Then there’s no problem.

Now, maybe someone is saying,
But when I come to communion, the distributor touches my tongue.
I don’t know if any of our distributors has difficulty with this,
But if so, just come see privately. I will be glad to help.

OK, now let me say something about the whole situation,
Which seems so far out for almost all of us.

Some of us are probably thinking, this is all overblown.
Others may be getting over-anxious.

My parents lived through World War II, and growing up,
I heard a lot about what that was like, with black-out curtains, 
and air-raid drills, rationing of food and gasoline, war bonds,
and of course, hundreds of thousands of men sent to war,
and everything else reorganized.

The whole country was mobilized, and this reminds me of that.

There was a point when the war seemed far away,
and there were people saying there’s no problem, it’s overblown.
That isn’t how it turned out, of course.

You and I don’t know how serious this will be.
Most of us, if we catch the virus, will be fine; 
but if we help spread it, then some of us are in deep trouble. 
If the hospitals get overwhelmed, that’s a serious issue for us all.
So it’s all about slowing the spread. That’s the whole ballgame.

Just as in World War II, it was important that everyone do his part.

So, kids, you’re off school. Some might consider it a break, 
but this is creating challenges for mom and dad. How will you help?
Blood banks and food banks need supplies right now. Do what you can.

And at risk of stating the obvious, we need to pray!
This church remains open every day, 5 am to 9:30 pm at night.

If you stay home, don’t stop praying. Pray as a family.
A lot of health-care people are on the front lines.
Many businesses are hard-hit and that means jobs.

And one more thing we all know, but let’s call it to mind:
We will get through this. 
The best way is that we help each other, 
And we remember that God is still in charge.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

There's so much more: keep going! (Sunday homily)

People ask me, where I get ideas for homilies.
Even Facebook! 
Yesterday I saw a great comment from Father Rob Jack, 
who is with Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati.

Here’s what he said about these readings:
“God has a greater goal for us than we do.”
You and I may be focusing on our physical health, our career,
 our wealth, or maybe just the party this weekend.

But what does God have in store for us? 
As some of our kids’ t-shirts say, you and I are “made for more.”

So: Abram is in his home, with his wife, and all his prosperity,
And suddenly God speaks to him: Get up and go!
Remember, his people worshipped idols; those god’s didn’t speak.
So his whole world was turned upside down.
He had a really good life. But God had something more.

In the Gospel, Jesus – who is God, come to dwell with us –
gives the exact same invitation to the Apostles, 
and, ultimately, to each of us.
What does he say?
“Come! I’ll make you fishers of men!”
“Come! Walk on the water!”
“Come follow me, let’s go to the world, I’ll be with you.”
But for good measure he also says, “Take up the cross.”

When you and I have a pretty good life, it’s easy to stay put.
And we may tune out that call to step out.
This is a good time to make the point 
that sometimes we really can be freer 
to respond to those invitations God gives us.

If you’re here and approaching high school or college,
these next few years can be some of the best times 
for you to do what Abram did, what the Apostles did.

Maybe you want to go and spend some time 
making some part of this country, or the world, a little better?
How about being a lay missionary for a year or two?

Young men, maybe check out the seminary?
Just so you know: they don’t lock you inside, OK?
I’ve known a lot of men, of all ages, who checked it out,
spent a year or two in the seminary,
and then they figured out, this isn’t for me;
But: they all say they were glad they did it, it made them better men.

And if you’re thinking, hey, great message for young folks, 
let me remind you that Abram was 80 years old when he got the call!

I know I’m not in that age bracket, but I do know this:
At 58, I’m more set in my ways than I was 10 or even 5 years ago.
And if I want to, I can make excuses for not doing this or that;
but most of the time, that’s all it is: an excuse.

And I’m not talking about packing your bags and hitting the road.
Only that God has far more for us than we know;
and either we keep our ear open, or we say, too late, someone else.
Let me tell you about two people: my dad, and his cousin Elizabeth.
In her 90s Elizabeth had to move into assisted living.
She didn’t want to do it; and she said, I don’t have any reason to live.

I understand that, but that was not true! 
She was a disciple of Jesus; she had a lot to share;
But she didn’t see it, and she died not long after.

About the same time, my dad experienced the same physical process. 
He suffered the losses that come with age: 
my mom, other friends and loved ones; 
He couldn’t walk too well after a while; he moved out of his home.

It was really hard letting go of the car keys.
Eventually came a wheelchair, 
and finally he was homebound his last five years,
after spending his life being active and out and about.

But a funny thing happened: the world began beating a path to his door!
At each stage, I watched my dad find new ways to be an apostle; 
and eventually, it was from an easy chair in my sister’s living room.

What was different wasn’t physical, it was attitude!
My dad knew there was always more and he kept going!

In his transfiguration, Jesus reveals his glory, 
Because he knows the next stop is Calvary;
it’s going to be really rough for the Apostles.

He showing them, Look how much more there is!
This is the destination. Keep going! 

And because this is Jesus’ world, he created it and he’s in this world,
He brings that “more” to us just like to the Apostles.
That’s what the sacraments are:
Baptism; marriage; confession; the Eucharist.
He’s telling us, “Here’s the more: keep going!

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

What we're doing about germs at St. Remy

Appearing in the upcoming parish bulletin:

In addition to an annual concern about the flu, we are all wondering how much of a problem the Covid coronavirus that originated in China will turn out to be. Even before this latter virus came on the scene, some have suggested a different approach with the Sign of Peace and the distribution of the Precious Blood at Mass. With the current, added uncertainty, I think the time is right to make the following changes, effective immediately:

- During the Sign of Peace, there is no need for any physical contact; simply saying, “Peace be with you,” gets the job done. If you wish, make a head nod. This is what I’ll do at the altar. Please don’t take it amiss if someone would rather not shake hands.

- We will only distribute the Body of Christ, not the Precious Blood, at all Masses. Those who are scheduled as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion will be contacted, and the information included in the bulletin will be updated. (If this creates a problem for anyone, contact me and we’ll work it out.)

What about communion in the hand or on the tongue? 

This will surprise you, but based on my 17 years of experience as a priest, I have concluded that communion in the hand is more unsanitary than on the tongue! Amazing but true. Our hands can be every bit as germy as our tongues, and when distributing the Eucharist properly, it is far easier to avoid touching your tongue than your hand. Accidents can happen either way: sometimes people don’t really open their mouths (I don’t know why), or they don’t put out their tongue. Meanwhile, those who receive in the hand will very often cup their hands, or close them rapidly after receiving the Sacred Host, or quickly bring their second hand close. Meanwhile, some aren’t really standing still, and that also creates problems (thus the age-old wisdom of having an altar rail to lean on or kneel at). Bottom line? In my experience, touching someone’s hand happens way more often than touching someone’s mouth. 

What about holy water? Keep in mind that with lots of hands being dipped in the holy water, it should be obvious that germs will be in the water.
Is this overkill? It could be, and let’s hope it is. The main problem now is uncertainty. But in any case, we can at least do our part for the common good, and help to raise awareness of the need for good hygiene. We can all be more proactive about frequent and complete hand-washing, covering our face when we sneeze and cough – I try to do it into the crook of my arm – and keeping our hands away from our faces.

The far better precaution? Staying home! If you are feeling ill, stay home! If your health is fragile, or you have a weakened immune system, stay home! You are in no way obliged to attend Sunday Mass when you are ill, or you are concerned about getting ill. Stay home, and call me to arrange for a visit or with any other questions. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A train wreck: 'transgender, nonbinary Catholic priest.' Wrong on all counts

This story first appeared February 16 in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and then re-appeared locally in the Dayton Daily News about a week later. With such a clickbaity headline, I can only imagine it appeared lots more places, too.

OK, let's take a look at this. (FYI, clicking on the headline above will take you to the article.)

First, let's end all suspense: No, Rev. Kori Pacyniak is not a Catholic priest. Nope, nada, not even a little bit.

Second, a note on pronouns (I'm really sorry I have to do this, but such is the insanity of our times). Rev. Pacyniak was born a female -- and of course so she remains. However, Rev. Pacyniak prefers the pronoun "they" be applied to her. The best I can do is avoid using pronouns, but I won't mangle the English language, let alone misrepresent reality, on her behalf. I write this not for Rev. Pacyniak, who probably won't see this, and even more likely won't care about what I write, but for any readers who may be unclear on this. Rev. Pacyniak can change her name, and can call herself what she likes; she can even become an ordained minister (but not in the Catholic Church). But what Rev. Pacyniak cannot do -- as in, lacking the power to do -- is compel others to describe reality other than as it appears to them. If I were to meet Rev. Pacyniak, I would be warm and courteous, and I would address this child of God, directly, pretty much as the said child of God wished. But Rev. Pacyniak doesn't get to control reality at an infinite distance from her, so she doesn't get to control what I do 3,000 or so miles away.

Now that that business is dealt with, let's see what else is in this article.

The conversation began in typical fashion, with a question many grandparents ask: “When you grow up,” Kori Pacyniak’s grandmother wondered, “what would you like to be?”

At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.

“I want to be a priest,” said Kori, then an 8-year-old girl from a devout Polish Catholic family.

Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”

Kori: “OK, I want to grow up to be a boy.”

I've read a lot of these stories about, let us say, non-males who end up being ordained, supposedly, as Catholic priests (but not really, see below), and this seems a constant feature: while growing up, they wanted to be a priest. While such stories tug at the heart, is this actually supposed to be a compelling argument against the Catholic Church's constant teaching and practice? Really? Why?

"While Pacyniak left behind standard gender roles..."

Class, let's pause for a moment and review vocabulary. First let's take the word "gender." Let's look at Webster's definition. The first has to do with grammar; while rare in English, it is very common in many languages for nouns, even describing inanimate objects, to have gender. This is good to know, but not on point here. So let's proceed to the second part of the second definition:

b: the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.

See that, class? "Gender" is something "associated with" sex, but it is not synonymous with it. If you care to read on, this same Webster's article gives a history of the "intertwined" usage of the two words, at times synonymous, but not originally, and not consistently.

So as far as young Kori leaving behind "standard gender roles," that bare statement tells us almost nothing. But then we get this astonishing assertion:

"Yet Catholicism posed barriers to Pacyniak. For one thing, Rome only recognizes two genders, male and female."

My first reaction was simply to laugh at that mashed-up thought. Untangling it, I infer Mr. Rowe means the Catholic Church -- not simply "Rome" -- only recognizes two sexes; as there are three genders in Latin and other languages, and the Catholic Church has no issue with any of them.

As a manifestation of evolving social manners, the Catholic Church may or may not take note of new forms of "gender expression," but generally doesn't take any firm stance on them. So, for example, there was a time when women wearing pants, instead of dresses (or "a glimpse of stocking") was something shocking, but not so much today. But apart from the very general question of modesty, the Church does not take any dogmatic stance on such things. So, as stated, Mr. Rowe's sentence is false: the Church has nothing to say about how many "genders" there might be.

What about sex? Ah, well, that is a fact of biology and related sciences, and is no more up to the Church than the periodic table or the laws of physics. I'm so old, I can remember when the Roman Catholic Church was mocked and pilloried for refusing to recognize that the earth circled the sun; now we are pilloried because we don't refuse.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not particularly interested in picking apart Rev. Pacyniak's life story. Why she came to have difficulties embracing her identity as a woman is her private business. "Oh no," you say? "She chose to put it all out on public display." Look: suppose someone in the neighborhood has a bad moment and runs down the middle of the street in his underwear -- or even less -- and such we learn happened under the influence of grief, stress, a psychiatric condition, alcohol, drugs or a combination thereof. No matter how we react, we all know what the charitable thing is to do. If you have never had to deal with someone you care about having a really bad moment, or even a long series of them, and a lot of it very publicly, count yourself very blessed indeed.

As you read the article, you will find lots of references to the bad old Catholic Church, "refusing" and "excommunicating" and generally being mean, the meanies! But what you will never find, in this lengthy article, is even the slightest attempt to explain why the Catholic Church only ordains men as priests.

At one point, the spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego is quoted, and here is the ringing defense of Catholic teaching:

"'Right now,' said Kevin Eckery a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, 'ordination is only open to natural born males.'"

As someone who's dealt with the media over many years (it used to be my job, pre-seminary), I am ready to believe that Mr. Eckery gave a clear explanation of the Church's teaching, and none of that was included. Perhaps he explained carefully the unbroken tradition, not just in the Catholic Church, but in all ancient Churches; and maybe he referred the reporter to Pope John Paul II's crystal-clear, and dogmatic, infallible teaching on the impossibility of the priesthood being conferred on women.

It is even possible that the words, "Right now," were never uttered by the poor man (if man he be; in this brave new world, all things are supposed to be possible); but I doubt it. It is perhaps true that the reporter nudged him: "you mean for right now?" "That's right" -- or something like that.

One wonders how inquiries on other unchanging traditions and teachings of the Church are prefaced?

"Catholics believe in God -- for the moment..."

"There are -- as of 2020 -- only seven sacraments..."

"We believe Jesus is both true God and true man -- right now..."

So let me pause and give my three readers some valuable advice on dealing with the media. If you are asked to give a comment on any particular subject, first try to give yourself time to formulate your response; don't speak off-the-cuff. And in doing so, decide what ten words or so you want to see attributed to you; and then,  no matter what questions you are asked, no matter how many, you give that same answer, over and over. 


So, Mr. Eckery, what do you think of the weather?

Well, the weather is fine, but the important thing is that Jesus chose only men to be apostles, the apostles chose only men to be succeed them as bishops, priests and deacons, and we do not dare to overturn their example.

The pope seems to have a cold, what do you say about that?

I pray the pope feels better; meanwhile, it's important to remember that Jesus chose only men to be apostles, the apostles chose only men to be succeed them as bishops, priests and deacons, and we do not dare to overturn their example.

But what kind of car do you drive, Mr. Eckery?

Who cares? What matters is that Jesus chose...

Let me circle back to something I said at the outset: the headline, and the gist of the article, is "wrong on all counts." By that I mean: Rev. Pacyniak doesn't cease being a woman no matter what she wishes. She is not a Catholic priest, because that is impossible; and there is no such thing as a "nonbinary" Catholic priest, because, as matter of actual being, there is no such thing as a nonbinary human being.

As I read the article, I found myself wondering: does the author know anything about the Catholic Church? It's very possible he does not. Yet I would think even a moderately well informed person would take all this in, and say -- if only to oneself -- "this all doesn't sound very Catholic." After all, there's a lot of discussion about the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Metropolitan Community Church, and the "Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community," of which Kori Pacyniak became pastor before being ordained, however that happened. There's a lot of talk of "rewriting" liturgical, and even Scriptural texts. At one point does an inquisitive journalist wonder, "isn't there a moment at which something stops being what it was?"

The whole thing is, finally, sad.

Sad because Rev. Pacyniak has made a train wreck of her faith (with the goading of her grandmother, if the article is accurate), and very likely, a number of people have come along for the ride.

It is painful to want things to be other than they are; and this is a grief almost all of us can know in a very personal way. Someone you love dies; dies because she smoked for many years and would not quit; or dies because he takes a gun with him out into the woods; or dies of an illness no one knows how to cure. Or you discover a limitation on your own desires that you cannot change: you want to serve in the military, but you are disqualified; you want to be married and have a family, but you lack the capacity to love, the right way, the opposite sex; you marry, but you discover you or your spouse cannot conceive a child; you marry with the best of intentions, but discover your spouse lacked them. I could go on and on.

All of us have, or will, experience the cross of having something we long for taken from us, or never available in the first place. Each of us comes to grips with this in our own way, and I don't make sport of how others do so.

But if we are talking about Christianity, then there is one part of this we cannot deny, without denying Christ, and it is that our Faith is founded on certain facts that are, if you will, utterly ultimate and undeniable. When we die, and we all do (a fact), there either will be life afterward, or not. There will be a God, or there won't. This God will be the Trinity, or something else. Jesus will be the Savior of the world, who became human through the Virgin Mary -- or not. His words will be found to be true -- or not.

It really is all about Jesus Christ. Either the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us -- or not. He gave his word to us, he sent Apostles out to share that word, or not. He established his Church, and he remains with us until the end of the age, or not. On our particular judgment day, each of us will be confronted with these and other facts that, however much we wish they might be otherwise, we will not be able to remake. We can either approach the Fact of all facts, the Way, the Truth and the Life, accepting him as he is, and seeking his truth and mercy -- or:

We can spend our lives trying to rearrange facts that do not suit us, and reorganize the revelation that was handed down to us, in order to conform to our personal hopes and dreams.

Which seems more realistic?

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Which is worse? Coronavirus or sin? (Sunday homily)

A book I read a few years ago  on confession had this great quote:
 “Sin is turning your face away from God.”

And look at what you see in the readings: 
Adam and Eve turn their faces from God. 

On the other hand, we see Jesus in the Gospel.
He never turns away from the Father in heaven.
And that makes all the difference.

The reason we have these particular readings 
on this first Sunday of Lent is because they explain why we need Lent – 
and for that matter, why we need Good Friday and Easter.

And that’s because we human beings, like Adam and Eve,
turned away from God.
That’s the problem that Jesus came to solve.

He faces the same enemy that ensnared Adam and Eve.
Adam was afraid – that’s why he stood by and let his wife be attacked.
We don’t know if Jesus felt any fear – maybe he did –
But he waded into battle all the same.

How do we find that courage, that endurance?
Again, that’s how Lent helps us, 
by doing what Jesus shows us in the Gospel:
learning to say “no” to the appetites, 
saying “no” to coveting the good things of this world, 
and “no” to our pride – the pride that resists depending on God.

Or, maybe might be that voice in us that minimizes Lent,
in effect saying, “I don’t really need to change.”
Which is really another way of saying, I don’t need God.

You may have wondered why I sprinkled you at the beginning of Mass.
That was actually a disinfectant, what with all the health issues!
No, that’s not true. It was holy water. 
But why holy water on the first Sunday of Lent? 

Lent is about a lot of things, one of which is baptism.
It actually began as a way for people to prepare intensely 
for their own baptisms. 
And for the rest of us, it is a time to remember what our baptism means, 
and to renew our baptism.

So, if all baptism means to someone is a ritual when you’re a baby,
Then Lent, too, won’t make a lot of sense either.

But what we believe as Christians – and we know from our own lives – 
is that every human being has a problem, and that is sin.

Sin isn’t just something we do;
Sin changes us; it twists and distorts us, and finally, wrecks us.

Look at the coronavirus so many people are freaking out about.
And no, I don’t want to get sick, neither do you.
But look: the worst that virus can do is send me to heaven.
Sin – and only sin – can send me to hell.
Lent is when you and I get really serious, not about washing our hands, 
but straightening out our lives.

One thing more about the first reading. 
It ends without showing how God responds to Adam and Eve’s sin.
We all know how we think God will react – 
it’s the same way we imagine God reacting to our own sins and failures.
What we imagine is that God is upset; that God turns from us.

But this is not true. Sin doesn’t change God at all;
It changes us; and as I said at the outset –
It involves us turning our face away from God.
When you and I turn away, we get absorbed with other things.
Work, food, the Internet, sports, a thousand things.
Not that these are bad, but the good things of this world,
And my own pride of life, will not save my soul.

Meanwhile – still not looking at God’s face,
You and I are sure we know what we’d say: God is angry!
If we would only turn back, we would discover, 
God never stopped loving us. Not for a single second.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hate or heaven (Sunday homily)

The first thing to say about this Gospel 
is that when our Lord Jesus talks about “offering no resistance,” 
he is not talking about life-and-death situations, 
and he is not talking about whether we protect someone else.

Rather, he is focusing on those situations 
where our own pride is ruffled. 
These are situations where we can make the choice – 
in the words of Bishop Fulton Sheen, 
between winning an argument, or winning a soul.

The second thing to say is that this is about generosity.
It’s one thing to be generous with money, and even with time.
But to be able to forebear bad treatment and unfairness; 
to be able to forgive someone who has wronged you? 

That is an extraordinary generosity. 
We might even call it a divine generosity; and in fact, that is what it is. 
This is exactly the generosity God practices all the time; 
toward every single one of us.

Have you come to that powerful awakening, 
of realizing down to the marrow of your bones 
just how much you have been forgiven?
Maybe it was God who was so incredibly generous toward you; 
or maybe a spouse; or maybe your parents?

I think this hits a lot of us at a certain point, 
where we realize just how ungrateful and sullen and selfish 
we were as kids; and yet our parents believed in us and stuck with us.
Many of us struggle to forgive the wrongs other commit against us.
I suggest revisiting, with some deep reflection, 
those moments when you were on the wrong side; you were guilty; 
you had to be forgiven – and you were.

The more alive that memory is for you – of being forgiven – 
the easier it will be to be generous with mercy toward others.

To put it another way: we can either have hate; or we can have heaven.
If you hold on to one, you must let go of the other.
And to repeat, this is a divine generosity;
Which might lead you to say, then it’s impossible for me, so why try?

From the moment you and I were baptized, 
we began on the journey to becoming divine ourselves.
Does that shock you? Yet that is what we believe as Christians.
To be a Christian is to have the Divine Trinity dwell in us.
To be united to Christ – to be a little Christ – to be part of him.

Is Jesus divine? Is he God? You know that he is!
Are you united to Jesus? Is that not what all our sacraments, all our faith is about? 
What else does it mean to be a Christian, 
what else does the Eucharist – Holy Communion – mean, but to be united to Jesus?

So however shocking or baffling it may be to consider, yes:
You and I are destined to be sharers in God’s life: to be divine.
That’s what heaven is. That’s where we’re headed.
However impossible it may seem, remember, 
that’s God’s specialty, making the impossible happen.

And that journey – to heaven and becoming heavenly – 
is why we have Lent. 
Lent is a spiritual boot-camp; it gives us a full-time course 
in the spiritual tools that we need the whole year long.

Lent is not about us spending only six weeks being truly Christian, 
and then going on vacation for the rest of the year. 
Oh, I don’t doubt there are people who think that will work. 
They are mistaken.

The process of becoming heavenly, of becoming a saint,
involves a lifetime of conversion, day-by-day, habit-by-habit.

So if you haven’t already, start thinking about your plan for Lent.
Some of us probably need to be more ambitious;
And to be honest, others of us maybe are taking on too much 
and driving ourselves and our families crazy.

Try to remember: our job is to cooperate with God; 
God himself is the one who will change us, 
softening our hearts and making us like himself.

Most of us know the tools. 
We can all think of something to give up, 
beyond skipping meat on Fridays and meals at other times.

For prayer, we have daily Mass;
Adoration all day on Thursdays; 
Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Thursday evening. 
Maybe you’ve never made the Rosary a regular thing;
Perhaps you’d like to step up to the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Of course we’ll have lots of times for confession;
And the church – by the way – is open from 5 in the morning till 9:30 pm every single night.

For this Lent, we have some booklets at the exits to help you.
One is a series of Rosary meditations.
The other is about something called “Lectio Divina,” 
which literally means, “divine reading,” and is all about taking Scripture, 
and being patient as you read and reflect on it.
Please help yourself to one or the other booklet.

And remember Lent is about being generous.
Giving money and time is awesome; there many ways to do both.
But maybe take a cue from the Gospel 
and aim to be generous in forbearance. 
Be free-spending with forgiveness.

Hate and vengeance can be hard to let go of;
But we must, if we want heaven.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Don't just know the rules. Know Jesus (Sunday homily).

This homily is going to be about rules.

Many times we Catholics, and Christians in general, 
are accused of being all about rules. 
A lot of times, that’s what it all seems to be about.

It is true that many times the rules get a lot of the emphasis.
For one reason, rules are extremely helpful.
A child may or may not grasp why something is dangerous, 
even after you patiently explain it. 
So mom or dad just says, “don’t touch!”

When I was in the seminary, Father Mike Seger – 
who has now gone to eternity – 
taught me something very valuable which I will now share with you.
He explained that, quote, “rules exist to protect values.”
Let me repeat that: “rules exist to protect values.”

The truth is, very often it isn’t higher-ups who are saying, 
“here’s the rule, follow it.” 
Rather, it’s you and me preferring to boil it all down to a rule, 
because that’s a lot easier.

Think of two employees at a place of business.  

The first employee is very precise. 
Work starts at 7:30, so she’s there right at 7:30. 
And she’s at the door at the stroke of quitting time.
Coffee break? 
She takes it, and knows exactly how many minutes are allotted.
Otherwise, she is at her work station, carefully completing her tasks.
She knows what her job is – and what it isn’t.
She’s the one who says, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my job.”

The second employee really likes her job and is grateful for it.
She feels a sense of obligation to her employer and to her customers. 
She wants to do well herself, and she wants the company to do well.
So: she makes sure to show up first thing, 
and doesn’t mind eating lunch at her desk. 

If the boss needs someone to pitch in on a project or to stay late, 
she is willing. 
If she sees a problem, she speaks up and tries to help find a solution, 
before it gets out of hand.

Both these employees are honest and do their work.
What’s the difference?
One is all about the rules. She knows them backwards and forwards.
The other is all about the mission. What are we here for?

It’s so easy to focus on the rules: 
How many minutes before communion can I have a snack?
How far is too far with my girlfriend?
How many drinks before I’ve had too much?

Rules are necessary, like guardrails; 
but who drives with your car skidding along the guardrail? 

So when it comes to your daily spiritual life,
Or when it comes to taking part in Holy Mass, 
or the sacrament of confession, 
the rules can be helpful – but they aren’t the point!

Scripture scholar John Bergsma, who I quote from time to time,
superbly summarizes the point of this Gospel. 
The Pharisees, he said, were pursuing 
“a righteousness that said, 
‘What is the least I have to do and the most I can get away with, 
and still not formally break the divine command?’ 

“Jesus attitude . . . is rather, ‘What is most pleasing to God?  
That is the only thing I desire to do.’”

It’s so easy to focus on the rules.
But what gives us life is JESUS!
Rules are worthwhile, they help us.
But they cannot save us.
For that we need is Jesus himself.
Focus on him. Talk to him. Know him.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Salt & light: it's pretty simple (Sunday homily)

I have been under the weather this week, and I'm starting to bounce back.
Sometimes the Scripture readings can be a little obscure, but today?
Does anyone really need me to explain about helping the poor?
About being a good influence on our society?
About sharing your light, rather than hiding it?

There are lots of useful things I could say, but the truth is,
It’s all up to you.
You can hear, and nod and move on; or you can decide,
“Today, I’m finally going to make a move and DO something!”

I’ll mention the Catholic Ministries Appeal one last time.
It is an obvious way you can be salt and light, 
especially for people who need food and shelter 
and some measure of justice.

There are pledge cards and envelopes in the pews 
if you want to make a pledge right now, 
and return it in the collection plate today, 
or else drop it off later, or mail it in.

I’m going to sit down for a few moments.
You can either make that pledge, 
or else think about some other resolution you want to make today,
so that you can show the power of Jesus Christ’s love in our world.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Right here, right now (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is celebrated every year, 
but it only falls on Sunday every once in a while. 
The formal name is the “Presentation of the Lord”;
Another name is “Candlemas,” because of the candles of course.

But why candles?
On one level it’s kind of obvious: 
Jesus comes to the temple, and he is the Light of the World.

But let’s you and I drill down on that, shall we?

When Jesus was born, he looked like any other baby.
When the Apostles met him, they encountered a man like them.
Jesus ate and drank, he worked and got tired and had to rest.

Then, on one occasion, 
Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain, 
and he was, quote, “transfigured” before their eyes.
The Gospels say that he was brilliantly bright.
The apostles fell to the ground; 
maybe the sight scorched their eyes?

In other words, I’d like to suggest that in that moment,
they saw, as much as human eyes could see, 
what it really means to say Jesus is “the Light of the World.”

You and I don’t dare stare at the sun – it sears our eyes.
And yet Jesus, our Lord, is vastly more luminous,
more full of power and fire!
All the suns and stars and galaxies are but a little candle next to him!

When we say, “a Light for revelation” came into the temple…
Realize how intense and awesome that Light truly was!
If the sun in our sky could somehow enter this church,
maybe that gives a sense of it.

So we hold these candles, 
and they don’t seem like much compared to Jesus’ Light.
But that’s the way we are as sinful human beings.
These little candles are an apt symbol of what we bring:
Only a little bit; only a small sacrifice;
and we’re tempted to think, it doesn’t matter.

But in the temple that day, that’s what nearly everyone  
thought about Joseph, Mary and Jesus! They didn’t matter.
Only two people – Simeon and Anna – grasped the truth.

Part of that truth is that when Jesus’ infinite light joins ours,
we take on his brightness; you and I cannot dim his glory. 
Fear not!

This is as good a time as any to remind you that it’s time 
to make our own commitments to the Catholic Ministries Appeal.
By now you should have gotten a mailing about it.

You know the projects it pays for:
Caring for our retired priests;
Caring for the poor and needy, including in Shelby County;
Supporting a Catholic presence in prisons, hospitals and colleges;
Supporting our seminary and our vocations programs, and more.

There are cards and envelopes in the pews, if you need one.
Your pledge, like your candle, may not seem like much,
But united to Christ and all our other candles, it is a bright light!

There’s something else here, and it has to do with Jesus’ priesthood.
The first reading describes the Lord coming to purify the temple, 
and to offer a pure, all-powerful sacrifice worthy of God.

(At 9 am Mass, I inserted an explanation about offering Mass ad orientem, which we do at this Mass, explaining that the temple's great door faced east, hence when the Lord Jesus came to the temple, he entered from the east. Thus, when we offer Mass, we face "spiritual east," not necessarily geographic east, in hope of the Lord coming to us. We all face the Lord; "you are not my hope, that's why I don't face you; and I'm not your hope; we face together toward the Lord.")

This is a foreshadowing of what would happen on Good Friday;
And what is made present in every single Mass.

It is not too strong to say that right here, right now, we are there.
Every single Mass, you and I are there, 
with Jesus, offering himself as the Lamb of God.

So: are you and I like most people in that temple that day,
Ho-hum, nothing special?
Or, are do we see as Simeon and Anna, recognizing the Lord is here?

I know, you might be frustrated because you try, 
yet with kids and diaper bags and the cares of daily life,  
it seems impossible to do more than to “get through” Mass.

If that’s you; if you’re harried and hassled, my word for you is this:
Just be here, and trust Him.
His light is here, and he will shine on you, in you, and it’ll happen.
Not in a day; not on our timetable; but in his time.
Present yourself to the Lord and let him accept that offering.
But you’ll be a glorious saint one day. He’ll do it, not you.

Or, maybe you’re here, and you think, boring!
I don’t like the music; this homily is no good!
I don’t like the people sitting around me…
My answer is: you’re right! 

Six years ago, right about this time, I was in the Holy Land,
and I visited the very places where Jesus was crucified,
and nearby, the tomb where his dead body was placed,
and then on the third day, where He rose from the dead.
I was there! I kissed the stone on which he lay,
and we also had Holy Mass there – the stone was the altar!

As far as Mass goes, on this side of heaven, that’s as good as it gets.
Still, you know what? You visit a place like that, 
and you can actually be disappointed, because it’s so…human.
People were coming and going, I was trying not to trip or hit my head;
It was a lot of pushing and rushing, and then we headed on.

However: I kept reeling myself back in,
Reminding myself of where I was, and what happened there.
In other words, it’s a choice.
A good attitude, a bad attitude; to be awed or to be cynical:
it’s a choice we make.

I will never forget that trip to the Holy Land, and yet:
Right here, right now, it’s every bit as real and holy,
because the Light of the World, Jesus our High Priest,
Comes here at every single Mass and fills this temple with his glory.

And whether that light fills the temple of your life is up to you. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

How St. Remigius changed the world -- and you can, too! (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border of present-day 
France, Belgium and Germany; 
an area where many of the first settlers of this community came from.

As a boy, Remy was bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
The once-mighty Roman Empire was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have done so, 
had Remigius been mainly about being Roman
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Can anyone doubt that the prevailing values and beliefs 
of our society are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day?
We’re facing very much the situation St. Remy faced.

Bishop Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his soldiers were also baptized. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
What we do know is he did not retreat.

And even though his world and its challenges 
were very different from ours, 
his main response – his daily plan – was pretty much the same.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”

It’s not about how much you know, or memorizing certain phrases;
That’s what many of our fellow Christians do.
They tell their folks, memorize these scriptures or these arguments, 
and now go knock on people’s doors.

But Catholic evangelization is different.

That window, by the way, depicts St. Remy baptizing Clovis.
Behind King Clovis is his wife, St. Clotilda.
How did Bishop Remigius win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
There is no secret formula. It’s fairly straightforward.

First, Remy sought Clovis out. He offered friendship.

Second, what impressed King Clovis 
was not just words, but the way of life the Christians lived. 
In other words, the best tool for sharing our faith,
And helping others to find faith, 
is what they see in how you and I live our faith.

And, third, Clovis saw how generous Catholics were in helping others.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
This is one way our Archdiocese does today the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.

It provides food and utility help for people who need it, 
as well as counseling and family assistance 
through Catholic Social Services. 
I regularly refer people to Catholic Social Services.

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

You’ve always been generous to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.
Just a reminder: when we go beyond the goal set for our parish,
A portion of that comes back here to help pay for
our youth and religious education programs.

I think it’s safe to say that our times are not calm and boring!
Our society is changing rapidly, and we can either be worried,
Or we can, like our patron, St. Remy, be confident 
that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of all hearts, 
of all time and space, will use us to bring his Kingdom forward.

St. Remy planted seeds that grew in fantastic ways.
A lot of us here are descendants of those very people, 
in that corner of France, that Remy baptized! 
You have faith, today, because he led them to faith –
And, it was then faithfully passed down.

That’s our task today. Saint Remy…pray for us!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jesus in the confession line (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is the last of the Christmas season. 
It’s kind of a transition. 
With Christmas, we think of Jesus as a child; but now he’s a man. 
Christmas is usually about us coming to Jesus, 
but now Jesus is on the move; he’s coming to us.

What actually happens with his baptism
is pretty simple and very startling.

John was telling people: 
be baptized because you are a sinner and you are sorry. 
It was like coming to confession. 
To get in line on the bank of the Jordan, and waiting your turn,
Was a lot like getting in line outside the confessional.
You did it because you were a sinner and needed forgiveness.

So here is Jesus, getting in line with the rest of us.
If I were in the confessional, and Jesus himself came in, 
I would…beg for mercy! Right?

But I absolutely would not say, “OK, tell me your confession…”

That’s exactly how John the Baptist responds.
He says, wait, no…I need you to baptize me! Not this!
And Jesus says, right, but go along with it; it has to be.

The point was, Jesus was getting in line with us sinners.
That was always the point of the whole project.

The first thing we think about is our own baptism.
Christmas means, “God is with us” – that’s what baptism means.
But baptism also means, if you will, “us with God”;
That is, it means we are now citizens of heaven,
And if we hold on to that, not getting turned off the path,
we will be with God forever!

Never forget that you are baptized. You and I are different.
We belong to heaven. We’re just passing through.

The other thing we might think about is that confessional line.
Jesus got in that line. He was fine with that.

So one takeaway that’s really important.
If you ever think, I’m no good, I can’t be forgiven, 
God has finally had it with me!
You remember, Jesus came and got in line with sinners.

Another takeaway: if Jesus can get in that line, why can’t you?

Some might say, I don’t have anything to confess.
I suppose that’s true, how can I argue with that?
All I can say is, that never happens to me!

Now, what I’m about to say only applies to some here.
This is dangerous because some people will take this the wrong way.
Some folks – and you know who you are! – 
do their examination of conscience with a super-atomic microscope.

So if that’s you, what I say next does not apply to you!
But there are others who look in the mirror for 5 seconds, 
“hey, I’m good to go!” and that’s it. 
So just for you, I’m saying, dig a little deeper. Push a little.
That’s for those who say they can’t think of anything to confess.

But for those who already push themselves hard, 
that advice is not for you.  

St. Thomas Aquinas said, virtus stat in media; 
that is, “virtue stands in the middle.” That means, avoid extremes.
Some need to drill deeper; some need to ease up.

But to a broader point: 
what so often keeps me – and maybe you – from going to confession; 
or – even if we go, from really making it fruitful – is pride.
To put it another way: one of the best things 
for knocking down our pride is going regularly to confession.

Perhaps someone might say, “I don’t really need it, 
and I don’t know why Father Fox keeps going about it.”
The answer is, because I’m dull and lack imagination!

But another answer might be this.
Jesus gave us each a toolbox, with just seven tools, called sacraments.
Baptism and confirmation happen just once. That leaves five.
Most of us will never be ordained; we’re at four.
Many of us will never marry; that leave three tools.

One of those is the anointing of the sick, 
which is only called for when we’re seriously or gravely ill; 
so we hope to use that one only rarely. 
That leaves just two – the Holy Eucharist and Confession – 
that are designed for us to keep receiving again and again.
My question is, you’ve got two that are meant for regular use,
Why would you leave one aside to get dusty?

Surely Jesus knew what he was doing 
when he put both of them in the toolbox?

Come to confession. Call me if you need me to come to you.
You may think, I don’t know why I’m doing this, 
But there’s at least one consolation.
Jesus is in that confession line with you.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Christmas is the 'message'; Epiphany is about our mission (Sunday homily)

With all the hustle and build-up to Christmas,
By this point of the new year, this feast of Epiphany gets lost.
Lots of people think Christmas is over.

Not so!

Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts; 
he came to do something. 

The two feasts, Christmas and Epiphany, are both super-important; 
they form the heart of this season.
One way to think about is “message” and “mission”:
Christmas is the “message” and Epiphany is about “mission.”

Christmas: God came to us as one of us. 
God became flesh and dwells among us. 
God became man so that men might become God.

That’s the message: from Gabriel to Mary and Joseph;
From the angels on Christmas night.
That’s our Faith and our hope.

Now, Epiphany is about mission: take that message everywhere.
“Go out to all the world,” Jesus said;
“Preach the Gospel to every creature”;
“And I will be with you until the end of the age,” he promised.

And it’s kind of funny the way God underlines this point:
Before he sends us to the world,
He has the world – in the person of the magi – come to Bethlehem!
In a way, it answers in advance the objections people always have:
Oh, we can’t go out and tell people about Jesus!
It’s too hard; we don’t want to be pushy; and, people won’t listen.

Now, it’s true, sharing our faith takes effort; 
it can even require sacrifice and risk. 

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people, including a lot Catholics, and – 
I’m sorry to say, even bishops – who perpetuate this idea 
that pretty much everyone is headed to heaven.

Along with this goes the notion 
that there really aren’t any important differences between 
Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or other beliefs.

These are much more soothing things to believe; 
They let us off the hook from the embarrassment of sharing our faith, 
or offering a counterpoint to the world around us.

The only trouble is that Jesus never said these things.
He said the exact opposite.

“No one comes to the Father except through me,” he said.
“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus warned,
because broad and easy is the road that leads to destruction; 
but “hard is the way that leads to salvation.”

You will find such blunt talk from Jesus on every page of the Gospels. 
I think he said it so much  
precisely because we would be tempted to believe those other voices.

That said, you and I certainly must not be pushy or arrogant.
On one side is indifferentism, which I just talked about.

The other temptation is to act superior.
“We are the Catholics!” Look at us!
You and I are not smarter, not better, not holier;
God does not love us more, because we are Catholic.

Sometimes we focus on the wrong stuff.
It’s not about impressing God by how often we go to confession,
Or how piously we can recite our prayers.
We don’t wear a cross or scapular to show off.
Rather, the point of it all is that you and I are sinners,
and we need every bit of help we can get.

Being a Catholic is not badge of accomplishment!
Maybe you’ve heard of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s a lifeboat for those who are drowning in booze.
And the Catholic Faith is a lifeboat for those who are drowning in sin. 
So maybe we could change our name to “Sinners Anonymous.”

If you’re in the life-raft, don’t brag; get busy pulling others in!

Is it true that people won’t listen? Of course! 
It happened to Jesus himself!
But that isn’t to say it does no good.
Seeds of faith often take many years to germinate.
That little bit of faith you share, by word or example,
May make all the difference, but you won’t know until heaven.
Pride says, “I want to be successful.” 
Love says, “I want to be faithful.”

It is intimidating to think about “sharing our faith”: 
What does it mean? How do I do it?

Let me answer this way. If someone asked you, 
“Do you love your spouse?”; “Do you love your family?”;
or “Do you love America?”
Would you know how to answer? I think you would.

We would all answer in our own way.
Some might even be offended by the question, right?
Your answer doesn’t have to be fancy or intellectual;
it just has to be true; and then people will believe you.

And it’s the same here, except now the question is,
“Do you love Jesus?”

Sometimes you might not be ready with an answer
because you may not have sorted out your faith yet.
That’s where I was as a teenager, tagging along with my family.
We grow into that moment when it’s not just “our” faith;
Now it’s “MY” faith. I believe.

Then, I can look in my heart and give an answer.
“Sharing your faith”? That’s it. That’s how you do it.
And that is our mission.