Sunday, July 12, 2020

How you can frustrate God, and how you can help (Sunday homily)

One of the things every farmer here certainly knows 
is that this land can be tremendously fruitful. 
Of course that assumes good preparation, good seed, and –
this is on all our minds right now – enough rain. 
Please God, give us the rain we need (and no more!)

In a word, these readings are about fruitfulness. 

God himself is always fruitful. His word, his will, cannot fail.
God creates because he loves; God loves all that he creates.
When a child delights in building sand castles, 
this is a shadow of how much God revels in his Creation.

The Divine Farmer who strews galaxies across space with abandon [is]
the Heavenly Artist [who] makes a Mona Lisa in the tiniest creature;
No detail of your existence escapes the care of God;
No matter how many he may create, only you are uniquely you.

But here is a great mystery: If God’s will always bears fruit,
Then what goes wrong? 
If God himself farmed these fields, 
why wouldn’t he always have a bumper crop?

The answer is that God chooses to involve us, 
and we are the wild-card.
You and I can frustrate his creative work;
Or we can make his work more fruitful.

How do we do these things?

You’ve already figured out the next part:
Our sins and neglect obviously get in God’s way.

Throughout the Bible and on the lips of so many saints, 
God begs us to pray.
So many times heaven has sent the Mother of God to us –
Guadalupe, Lourdes, Knock, Akita, Fatima and more –
And more than anything else, Mary begs us to pray.

The most astounding detail of the Fatima visions in 1917, 
was not forecasting the coming of more wars throughout the century.
No, it was that Mary said those wars could be prevented,
if only people high and low would respond to her message.

And her message was both to popes and bishops, but equally to ordinary Catholics, 
everyone who could pray the Rosary 
and make other acts of repentance and reparation. 
That’s everyone, including you and me.

It’s funny how much we focus on the curious or obscure aspects 
of Mary’s message at Fatima, but ignore the clearest message: PRAY!

You might wonder, why should my sins have any effect on God’s plan?

Each of us makes up a part of the whole Body of Christ.
The Body works better when every part is letting life flow,
And following the signals coming from the head – that is, Christ.
When you and I commit mortal sin, we block the flow of grace.
You may think a finger or toe or patch of skin isn’t important:
Until it decides not to work. Then you’re knocked off your game.

The good news is, we can also help God’s plan; 
and the power of grace far exceeds the power of sin; 
the strength of God is far greater than the weakness of men.

For one, you and I can heal the deadness 
we bring to the Body of Christ by a good confession.
God is always ready to revive us and make us powerful with his grace.
We may think our little part doesn’t matter, but God says otherwise.

And to go back to the farm imagery of the Gospel, consider this:
What is it the farmer spreads over the fields, to make them fruitful?
“Fertilizer” – but mostly, that’s manure!
Stuff we don’t want, we don’t like, that is offensive:
Look how God puts it to use to make a difference!

So for anyone who says, “I’m worthless as…” fill in the blank,
God says, “Fine! Have I got a job for you!”

Sunday, July 05, 2020

As Americans and Catholics, 'We hold these truths' (Sunday homily)

This weekend, we celebrate our nation’s independence. 

When we have large numbers of our fellow citizens 
who are ignorant of our nation’s history and what we stand for, 
or worse, actually despise our nation – their own nation! –
then it seems like a good time to make some points about our nation
and the virtue of patriotism. 
But after that, I will circle back to the Scriptures in a moment.

Everyone knows what happened on July 4th:  
the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. 
The actual vote to be “free and independent” took place on July 2.

Do you know that until that moment, no one had ever done such a thing?
I don’t mean the part about forming a new nation; 
that has happened lots of times. I mean the Declaration. 
No one had ever written anything like it before. 
No nation had ever been conceived with such audacious claims as these:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 
that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, 
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Every word and idea I just quoted finds precedent in prior writings, 
including those of saints, such as Thomas Aquinas, 
and ultimately the Word of God; and yet, until that day, 
no one in history had ever distilled these ideas with such soaring prose.
There are a lot more reasons to be proud as an American, 
but those ideas, let loose into the world 244 years ago today, 
are more than sufficient reason to be patriotic. 
And that Thomas Jefferson helped make this happen, 
despite his sins, is more than enough reason to honor him.

I bring this up to make another point: 
Too many people know too little about our nation’s history.
Many here remember these things being taught to us,
And we assume this continues for younger generations.
But outside Russia School district, this is just not so.

With so many filled with rage as they smash history,
Someone – that is, you and I! – must help our fellow citizens remember.
Our history is not perfect, but those words: “endowed by our Creator” 
and “all men are created equal” have propelled us 
toward ever greater human dignity, not only for us, but all mankind.

America at her best really has been a beacon to the world – 
and that, too, is something to be proud of, and to defend.
Because this isn’t just about the past; 
the past isn’t worth remembering 
if you and I aren’t concerned about the future.

What sort of nation will we be? Will we let others decide for us?
There’s a political process, and each of us has a right – 
and also a duty – to take part.
More than that, we have the power of prayer and witness.

As citizens of this country who are also citizens of heaven, 
It belongs to us to see that “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” 
happen for all God’s children, of every race and condition, 
including those unborn, and those on the margins of life;
including those who suffer prejudice 
and maybe don’t see themselves sharing in our nation’s promise.

Now let me turn to the Scriptures.
The first reading foresees a king who will resurrect God’s People,  
and he will conquer, not with a sword, but with justice, bringing peace.
Of course this is Jesus Christ!
But the point is, if this is how our Lord and King chooses to come,
then it is the pattern for us to approach our fellow citizens.

How unthinkable to hear the Lord all-powerful, all-knowing,
say of himself, “I am meek and lowly of heart”?

Have you ever heard a politician say that?
Or an actor or athlete – or a parish priest – say that?
“I am meek and lowly of heart.”
And if they did, would anyone believe them?

If you and I say these words, will we be taken seriously?

Fifty years ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King and many others – 
including many Catholics – took brave and necessary steps 
to fulfill the founding promise of liberty for ALL;
in imitation of Jesus, they came “meek and lowly.”
The whole nation watched them be beaten for simply demonstrating, 
or sitting to eat lunch at a segregated restaurant.

Their courageous meekness changed our nation for the better.

Not only should you and I have our say in this moment.
Even more, we must do it in a Christ-like way.
This ugliness is likely, any day, to beget more ugliness.
Who will be led by the Holy Spirit, and do the works of the Savior?
That’s your task and mine:
“We hold these truths.”

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Patriotism is a virtue (Independence Day homily)

Immaculate Conception, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1649-50,
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. 

This particular 4th of July seems like a good time 
to talk about the virtue of patriotism.

Our catechism links patriotism to the fourth commandment: 
“Honor your father and mother.” 
It goes on to say that this commandment 
“requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors” 
and “it extends to the duties of citizens to their country, 
and to those who administer or govern it.”

The great Thomas Aquinas talked about patriotism in a different way – 
in relation to the virtue of piety, or pietas in Latin. 
For the ancient Romans, piety was a debt of honor, 
owed to my parents, my family, and my patria, or country. 
That’s where we get the term “patriot.”  
And so, St. Thomas teaches, “man is debtor 
chiefly to his parents and his country, after God.”

So one of the first aspects of patriotism is to recognize: I owe a debt.
From the first moment of my existence, 
someone else was feeding and protecting me: 
first in my mother’s womb, then in the house of my parents. 
They clothed and educated me, 
turned me from a barbarian into a halfway decent person, 
all at great expense, for the first 20 or so years of my life.

And it was the same for you, too.

Our parents taught us something else: they had help.
Whether you grew up in the city like me, or here in farm country,
All of us were sheltered under the protective wings of our country:

Enjoying astonishing prosperity, the most expansive liberty, 
and a blanket of peace and security 
that most people past and present, have never known. 
The peace we enjoyed came at great cost: vigilance, courage and blood.

Every one of us owes a debt, and it is right to pay that debt:
not only gratitude, but love. We owe love to our country.

Now, here is something else that most people have not enjoyed:
Our country gives us the right to criticize and to demand change.
So, if you and I are properly grateful for this right in particular, 
how shall we show that gratitude?

Many of our fellow citizens are responding with violence and hate.
There is no excuse. No, none whatsoever.
You do not remedy injustice by adding injustice.

Do not let others’ ugliness make you respond in kind.

That said, there is such a thing as patriotic protest.
It was bought for us at extravagant cost.
Therefore, it is not only a right, but a duty.
But what makes protest patriotic is that it acts out of love.

Consider the prophet Amos, who gave us the first reading.
Why did go up and down the land, crying out?
He, inspired by God, was acting in love: to save his people.
He could not bear to see his homeland so disfigured by sin and cruelty.

To be a citizen means we have a share in shaping our country.
Again: a privilege won for us by blood, 
And which most people past and present, do not enjoy.
So if you are a patriot – and St. Thomas says, we must be –
Then part of that patriotism is to take part in shaping our nation.

If you do not exercise the vote, if you do not become informed, 
how can you defend that? 
If the people of Israel could have voted for a new king, 
what do you think Amos would have done? Just change the channel?

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that there are times 
when his friends – that’s you and me – are called to fast and pray.

When our country is in trouble – and we are in trouble now! – 
Then that is such a time.

So, before this Mass, a group prayed a “patriotic” Rosary.
Remember, the bishops designated our Lady as the patroness – 
the patron saint – of our country.

Look at very old artwork of Mary: red, white and blue 
were her colors, long before our nation ever existed!
So go to Mary: ask her to pray for America, and you pray with her.

It is not unpatriotic to admit that we still need to change.
Those who say we need less racism and more justice: they’re not wrong!
You and I might add: justice means defending human life, 
from its very beginning, to its very end. 

And defending human life from being twisted and corrupted,
Which is why we defend the family as it truly is: man-woman-child, 
and therefore, we refuse to accept counterfeits. 

This is why we cannot be passive about the filth on the Internet, 
Which is every bit as toxic in its own way 
as all those poisons we worked all these years 
to remove from our air and water.

You and I pray for these things, speak out and vote for these things,
because we are patriotic; because we love our country.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

There is no reason to apologize for Serra or St. Louis

Click on the picture to go to its source.

Mobs of the best-credentialed illiterates in history (having graduated from once-prestigious universities with degrees that don't turn into paying jobs) are running wild in the streets of too many American cities, wreaking vengeance bravely against hunks of rock and molten metal. Little None of it is rational; a lot of it is atavistic rage, fueled by hatred of what America is, what the West is (not was; this isn't about history, not really). The iconoclasts have moved from Confederates to Founding Fathers and now to Catholic saints, including Saints Junipero Serra and Louis IX, King of France. Images of Jesus are on deck.

Why these saints?

Louis's sins are two-fold. First, that in his time, Jews were treated badly, and he went along with it, at least to some degree (many popes and princes of the age pushed back on anti-Jewish measures; I don't know if Louis did).

This is true, although it must be remembered, history (like people, because, people) is complicated. The idea of requiring Jews (or anyone else) to wear special clothing, or even some sort of badge, makes us shudder, as it should. That is because we know (alarm bell: too many people do not know) that in the 20th century, Jews (and others) were compelled to wear badges on the way to being degraded in every possible way, before being murdered. Nothing can adequately convey the horror of it; before this fact, we can only fall silent.

So it is quite right that we recoil; but not only is King Louis not Hitler, there is no way you get from A to B without waging total war against A. There are lots of things to fault the Middle Ages for, including misunderstanding the time value of money, and worse, being nasty to the Jews; but they did not talk about exterminating people. Make of it what you will, but what the Christians of the 12th century wanted from Jews (and everyone else) was that they become Christians and live as such, so as to have maximum chances of heaven. That is not hate.

Louis' second "sin" is no sin at all: that is, he joined in the defense of Christians who were being brutalized in the Levant by invading Muslims. In other words, he went on Crusade. Oh, I know that is supposed to be a terrible thing! No doubt you also opposed the Crusade* launched by the Allies in 1944, led by Eisenhower, to come to the relief of Europe? You think that justice demanded leaving the Germans alone, to continue their benevolent rule? Oh, you think that is an unfair comparison? Tell me why.

Junipero's real sin is that he was European and a Christian; that is, he came to the New World in the wake of others, who explored and, unfortunately, also exploited. Junipero came, however, to bring salvation. In doing so, he was an advocate for the natives of California, and his missions were places both of faith and dignity for them. This coincidence is no coincidence: it was precisely from Junipero's Christianity that his solicitude and respect for the natives -- as imago Dei and brothers -- flowed.

No, the only real sin Junipero's critics care about is that he came in the first place. If only Christopher Columbus had never sailed the ocean blue. If only those wicked Europeans had left the Paradise of the New World alone. And it is indeed a tragedy that European explorers also brought disease and, too often, greed and lust and bigotry. But therein lies the problem: original sin.

But I'm not sure that the thugs who bravely assault statues believe in original sin, which is a frightening thought: just where do they think the impulse to steal and plunder and enslave comes from?

To the extent these sad-sacks think at all, I must conclude they suppose sin is a product of external forces; that if only society and thought can be reorganized somehow -- revolutionized -- then sin will be extirpated. You want to know what that looks like? Examine the record of the iconoclasts' saints: Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot. Although I almost certainly give most of them too much credit. No doubt some minority of the mob knowingly embraces communism, the majority are simply too stupid. Yes, I know that is harsh, but let's get real: there is a kind of education that opens the mind, and there is a kind that closes it. These folks have received the latter, and it is terribly sad, for them and for us.

At any rate, let's be candid: all through human history, migration is a constant. All the people's who live on the islands of the Pacific surely did not originate there, neither did the natives who first saw the sails of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria rising on the horizon. Everyone is from somewhere else; and almost everyone is descended of someone who took it from someone else. I am not justifying conquest; I am simply pointing out that the Europeans did what everybody did. What's more, if you want to evaluate this morally (of which I am in favor), I ask you: where does your morality come from? How do you know what is really right and wrong? How do you justify it?

The Christianity that made Junipero and Louis the people they became does give a basis for right and wrong; what else? If you say, oh, I have nothing to do with that, then where does your morality come from? If you point to the Enlightenment, I have news for you: that was a product of Christianity. And I have further news, which is sobering: as the roots of the Enlightenment in Christianity are forgotten, so now a new generation, that knew not Descartes and Locke and Kierkegaard, have pretty much forgotten the Enlightenment, or worse, are cheerfully consigning it to the flames. So I ask you again: the moral code that assures you of the wrongness of, well, pretty much anything, where does it come from? What secures it?

Here's another thing. Many people do not realize what it means when someone is deemed a "saint."

Let me explain: it does not mean they were perfect. To be a Christian is to believe that such perfection is impossible, without the constant assistance of God's grace. I think our Protestant and Evangelical brethren get mixed up on this -- they firmly believe in grace, yet they seem to miss the point that if grace is real, then doesn't it, at some point, work? In other words: saints. But in any case, too many people, who aren't as familiar with Christianity as they may realize, simply do not know that the heart of the Christian faith is this: we human beings are so damaged, that only God intervening can save us. That's what it's ALL about.

So if you look for flaws in any saint (out of courtesy to Jesus, we will not do so regarding his mother), you will find them. What's more, of course saints were people of their time, meaning they reflected, to some degree, the attitudes and blindspots of their time.

That King Louis was insufficiently aware of, and resistant to, the prejudices and atmospheric sins of his age (note I said "insufficiently"; he was certainly aware -- read his writings) does not alarm me. But the perfectionism of his critics -- and their unawareness of that -- is positively terrifying.

* Yes, Ike actually called the Normandy landings a "crusade." He also used the term as the title of his memoirs.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

St. Remy Holy Mass 7:30am

You want to make a revolution? Start with yourself (Sunday homily)

Here’s a cheerful way to begin my homily: let’s talk about death!

First: death is all around us. Trees and plants die;
and all those dead leaves and husks, along with other things,
makes up the rich soil we use to grow our food.

Second, there is an absoluteness, a finality, in death; 
which is the very point Saint Paul is trying to drive home 
in the second reading. To be a Christian – to be baptized – 
equals an absolute, unconditional, total break with sin.
As total and final as death. There must be no going back.

Next weekend we celebrate the 4th of July, 
and there is usually a ceremony somewhere, 
in which immigrants become citizens.
And part of that ritual is an oath with these words:

“I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure 
all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, 
potentate, state, or sovereignty, 
of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”

If you can’t say goodbye to those old allegiances forever, 
you cannot become an American.

And that’s what Paul is saying: 
to be a Christian is to renounce sin forever.

Of course Paul knows we struggle with sin; part of his point is to say, 
When you find yourself casting longing eyes backward, remember:
You died. Leave all that behind you, in the grave.
Actually, if St. Paul were here now, he might also say,
That dying isn’t just past; it’s present and future.

Each day’s ups and downs give us a choice:
Die to sin and live a new life. 
Jesus says the same in the Gospel: take up the Cross.

Let’s consider all this fury of demonstrations and destruction.
What people are really worked up about isn’t just laws and injustice.
It isn’t just about history, or statues. It’s about people.
Laws and history are flawed because we people are flawed
and we always have been. 

Every once in a while, someone tries to start a revolution 
That once and for all, is going to purge away all those terrible defects.

But these movements always end up the same way:
Someone setting up a guillotine; a firing squad; a death camp. 

In all history, only Jesus Christ has provided an alternative.
The problem is sin, and it’s universal; it’s not this or that person.
And the only remedy is a kind of spiritual surgery:
Jesus will replace our sin-nature with a divine-nature: his own!
We turn in our sinful life; he gives us his heavenly life.

And that means that you and I, right now, are on the operating table!
The surgery isn’t finished. It takes a long time: a life-time.
Meanwhile, you and I are usually really bad patients!
We fight the divine surgeon; we tell him how to do his job!
Sometimes you and I get up from the table and stop the procedure; 
but then we realize, no, it’s the only way forward.

So if all that’s true, the natural question is, how can we help?

One is to remember the words of the writer, G.K. Chesterton, 
who when asked, “what’s wrong with the world?” answered, “I am.”

It’s so easy to point fingers and blame the President, the Governor, 
the rioters, this group or that – and they all have a share.
But there’s just one person who I can really control: and that’s me.

You want to make a revolution? Start with yourself.
Start with a resolution to kill off one sinful habit.
Go to confession. Tell God you forgive once and for all…
and then fill in a name.

If others express hate and ugliness: you respond with love and peace.
They may not listen; but at least we won’t add fuel to the fire.

May I also suggest not turning a deaf ear?
There is a lot of nonsense being spoken, no question.
But amidst all the noise, some people are hurting and feeling unheard.

There are real troubles facing our fellow Americans, 
including black Americans.
Are there dumb ideas for addressing them? You bet!
The answer is not to turn away and say, “not my problem.”

Next year we will celebrate 200 years of the Archdiocese – 
and 175 years for our parish. 
Archbishop Schnurr has provided a theme: “Radiate Christ.”
Like a candle or a light bulb – in darkness.
That sounds really good right now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

St. Remy Holy Mass 7:00am

Here's a video of my homily from Sunday. I'm not sure what went wrong with the livestream link I published.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

How to be faithful, not fearful (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, Jeremiah knows people around him
are plotting his destruction.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Fear no one” – only be faithful to God.

The fear I’m talking about is that which holds us back;
timidity or faintheartedness or cowardice.
These are vices that are opposed to fortitude or courage –
and that virtue of fortitude is what we want and need.

If we are in a conversation,
and we are shy about bringing up an important subject; why is that?
Sometimes there are good reasons, but often isn’t it because
we don’t want to be thought less of?

Jeremiah shared God’s message at the risk of his life.
What do we risk? Being laughed at, or whispered about?

This week we remember the martyrdom
of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More,
who both died because they were faithful
to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage,
when the King of England demanded they go along
with his desire to divorce his wife and marry another.

In our time, so many around us are readily, eagerly going along
with a redefinition of marriage,
which has been declared the law of the land.
Two men, two women, who cares?

It can be so hard to stand up to this,
especially if you are called a bigot,
as members of my own family have called me,
because I will not bend to this redefinition of marriage.

And now the latest idea is that our identity as male or female
is not something given by God, but something we give ourselves,
and is changeable.

Let me just point out that this week, the U.S. Supreme Court –
led by one of the justices who was supposed to be our friend –
redefined what “sex” in a way that normalizes what is unnatural;
and it will spark great mischief.

Along with the decision five years ago redefining marriage,
This line of thinking means that when you and I insist
that male and female are hard, physical facts – not mental inventions! –
according to the new normal, you and I are nuts; freaks.

I have said this before, and I say it again: it’s going to get worse.
You may try to ignore this, but those pushing this revolution
aren’t going to ignore you. They are coming on all fronts.

You and I must fortify ourselves for the day
when we will have to stand up, alone like John Fisher and Thomas More,
for the truth! In this case, that male and female
are made for each other and for children:
that’s what marriage is; that’s what family is; and that’s what sex is.

Pope Francis has called these theories
about marriage and sexual identity “demonic.”
Strong language, but he is exactly right;
because what is under attack is not just some old rule.
What’s under assault is what it means to be human.

When God had finished his Creation,
with the man and woman his crowning work, he called it all “very good.”
When Satan saw it, he vowed to ruin it all,
And you and I, all humanity, are his main targets.

So notice what’s happening in our time:
the killing of unborn children; the elimination of the handicapped;
so-called “assisted suicide” for everyone else,
especially the elderly and those who are discouraged;
the poisoning of marital life
with contraception and divorce and pornography.

And now, the most breathtaking denial of all:
that being a man, or a woman – are not real, physical facts;
But merely wishes, constructs of the mind!
Why is Satan doing this?
The end goal is that we will know longer know who we are:
the image of God, who he calls to union with him.

Now, that is a hellish vision, and it’s frightening
to see it spreading in our world.
Nevertheless, Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid!

One reason I don’t like giving a homily like this
is because people react with fear,
and that is the opposite of what Jesus tells us to do.

When Saint John Fisher refused to buckle,
he was imprisoned for over a year.
During that time, he was not allowed to offer Mass,
receive Holy Communion or go to confession.
He grew so ill that the king sent his doctors
just to get him well enough so he could be executed.

When the day came, the guard woke him and said, today you will die.
Do you know what Bishop Fisher said?
Let me go back to sleep for another two hours!
Does that sound like he was afraid?

You see this time and again:
when people have nothing left to lose, there is amazing peace.

This is why acts of penance and mortification are useful all the time,
not just during Lent. This is why we need confession and conversion.
The main battle each of us faces is within ourselves.
As you and I strengthen virtue in ourselves,
we will have what it takes when the time comes.

Jesus warned us the world would go mad. Do not be afraid!
He is patient; be patient!
This world and its idols will not last forever, but Jesus reigns forever!
By his grace, may we remain faithful witnesses to him!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lessons from Justice Gorsuch's Bostock betrayal

Our hero (one of)

Not our hero. And not our savior.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, redefined what the word "sex" means in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act. Now "sex" includes "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." This was authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by President Trump to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Lessons?

- Don't expect too much in the U.S. Supreme Court, or from politicians' appointments thereto. I'm not saying we shouldn't hope, or work, for the best; and to be fair, Gorsuch has issued a number of good decisions. But so many of us keep hoping that with yet another appointment to the Supreme Court, we'll finally get somewhere. Don't put many chips on that number.

- When it comes to the Sexual Revolution and the madness it has unleashed, the hour is later than you think. Not only did six members of the high court endorse this madness, so did at least one of the dissenters: Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who even in objecting to the outcome, celebrated the successes of "gay rights" and all that goes with that. Message? If you think there is such a thing as natural and unnatural sex; if you think male is for female and vice versa, and if you dare to state that when you look at a man or a woman, you observe their sex is an objective, physical fact, then you are a kook.

- What the High Court really has done is adopt -- without a word of protest by anyone -- a new anthropology. (To be fair, this didn't start with this decision, but this decision completely reflects it, as self-evident as that the sky would seem to be blue (although that may be a social construct! Stay tuned for epistemological updates from the Department of Right Think).

- According to this new anthropology, human beings are not really one race oriented around a complementarity of male-female -- which would seem, on massive evidence, to be the product of many eons of evolution. Irrelevant!

No, in fact, humanity sorts into many sub-species: the female-oriented male, the male-oriented male, the male-oriented female, the female-oriented male, and potentially many more. Indeed, it would seem to be a heretical opinion to state any limit to the subspecies, because that offends against autonomy and self-definition and self-creation, which are the highest truths, higher than mere scientific truth. This new taxonomy of human beings is not unlike the old racial classifications that sorted people as black, mulatto, octaroon, etc., and rigidly defined your options in society. Today we do the same with "gay" "straight" "lesbian" "bisexual" and whatever else can be asserted, saecula saeculorum.

- Also, under this new truth which the Supreme Court accepts -- and cannot imagine anyone (but kooks) not accepting -- it is offensive to examine nature and attempt to discern any purpose or end. Notice how a dogma -- that sexuality must not be spoken of as natural or unnatural, as purposeful or contrary to purpose -- overrides a basic element of science: that of observation and deduction and hypothesis.

- The most breathtaking assertion of this new anthropology is that mere physicality, mere, objective facts, are less important, and must yield to, the will. Autonomy uber alles! So when you are I observe that "Sylvia," who "identifies" as a woman, actually has the physicality of a man, not only is this fact irrelevant, it must be silenced. We may, grudgingly (for now) see the facts of Sylvia's body, but we must not live or act as if we believe what we see. When Sylvia asserts that she/he/xe is male, that is the final word.

- Lots of conservative people fall into the trap of deeming this about religious belief, and of course, so-called "progressives" are only to happy to agree. Far better to say that this is all about some obscure religious belief, rather than about objective, observable facts and the conclusions that may and often must be reasonably deduced from them. That "progressives" have gone in for this mindset is one reason among many why I use the term in quotes, because this would seem to be "progress" to a way of thinking darker than any tendentious claim of "Dark Ages" of the past.

In the "medieval" ages, the Church was engaged in a titanic struggle over whether the world was knowable, and that it operated according to reasonable, discoverable truths; or whether it was none of these things. And the Church was on the side of reason, because that is a necessary inference from "In the beginning was the Word..." Progressives, in their hatred for the Word, and his governance, have opted for a world view that all that matters is will; even matter doesn't matter. This is, quite simply, Satanic.

- So I strongly urge those who share my alarm -- my kookiness -- in the face of this madness not to go along with the notion that we are defending a religious truth. No, we are defending a truth that requires no particular religious belief at all. That the Bible asserts the existence of the sun, moon and stars does not make defending their reality merely a matter of "religious freedom." And lest you think I am making a leap, tell me: what is the difference between asserting that male and female are merely "social constructs," and asserting the same about the stars?

- The word for what Justice Gorsuch takes as self-evident is madness, and it is no good thing, even if we religious people may be able, for a time, to huddle under the protective cover of exemptions provided by law. We may win some future cases, in which we are graciously permitted to remain sane within the confines of our homes or our churches, but this is a poor bargain, and not much to celebrate.

- Meanwhile, if you are a Christian, there really is no reason, finally, to be surprised, and none to be afraid, and certainly none to be discouraged. Do pray. Do strengthen your own virtue in preparation for your own trials. "Take heart! I have overcome the world!" Jesus said. Either you and I believe that or not. It's bad, and it's going to get worse. We may all end up with our heads on pikes for all I know. But think of St. John Fisher, condemned because he would not deny reality to normalize King Henry VIII's lusts. When he was awakened on his last day and informed he would be executed later, he asked if he could sleep another couple of hours. He was not afraid; why should he have been?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Bearing witness along the way (Corpus Christi homily)

This is Corpus Christi – and in case anyone doesn’t realize it, 
that’s Latin for “Body of Christ.” 
After the 11 am Mass, 
we will have our annual Corpus Christi procession. 
It feels good to be able to do normal things again, doesn’t it?

This coming Friday, we will have our annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
We will meet at P___ and S___ F_____’s home and from there, 
walk about a mile or so along Darke-Shelby Road. 

All men and boys of all ages are invited; you don’t have to be Catholic; 
and if you can’t walk, we will have something to ride. 
Even if it rains, we will still meet, 
because the F_____s have a big barn, dedicated to our Lady.

So, that’s two opportunities in the same week 
to go walking for the Lord. 

And then I think about the first reading, what are God’s People doing? 
They are walking, in this case, through the desert. 
For Israel, their 40 years in the desert 
was all about purifying and preparing them 
for the promise that lay ahead. 

And while that’s still true for us – 
that’s what our journey through this life is all about – 
the walking we do on Sunday, and again on Friday, 
is mainly about exercising our share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

When you and I were baptized, Jesus gave each of us a share 
in his ministry of being a priest, a prophet and king. 
Maybe you didn’t realize you were part of something so awesome – 
but you are! You aren’t just a spectator or along for the ride. 

We talk about the privilege and responsibility of being a citizen.
Some of the people who are smashing things seem to hate this country, 
but you and I know what a tremendous gift was given us, to be citizens.

To be baptized, to belong to Jesus, is all that, but so much more!
We love our country, but the Promised Land we march to is heaven.
Along the way, you and I have the high responsibility
of praying and interceding – 
for our community, for our country, for one another. 

That’s what our Sunday procession and Friday walk are about.
Therefore, if you can’t walk, you can still participate. 
Come stand or sit on the sidelines, or follow along in a golf cart; 
or participate at home in prayer. 

The point is, Jesus is offering himself – on the Cross and in the Mass – 
for the salvation of the world, and you and I are privileged 
to join him in this great task. 

And if you say, well, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do all the time, 
you are exactly right. 
But we do these things, once a year, as a sign – 
to our community, to our own selves – 
of who we are and what our mission is.

When you and I lift up Jesus before others in the monstrance – 
that’s the ornate object we use a kind of throne for the Lord –
that is also what you and I, each of us, is supposed to be every day.
The “monstrance” shows and honors Jesus,
which is what you and I are here to do.

Let me emphasize that anyone and everyone can participate. 
This is a great opportunity to bring somebody along. 
Maybe a family member or friend who is a little disconnected.
Or someone who isn’t Catholic, who doesn’t have any church home. 

Just tell them we’re doing these things as public witness and prayer, 
and it will be very peaceful. 
After people have been cooped up for several months, let’s get out! 
And after witnessing so much ugliness and anger in so many places, 
let’s take to the streets not with violence and fury, 
but bringing the Prince of Peace! 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Eucharist and the Trinity (Sunday homily)

The old Baltimore Catechism had a question and answer 
that I bet a lot of us can recite by memory. 
The question was, why did God make me? 
And the answer is, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, 
and to serve Him in this world, 
and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

In other words, what Jesus said in the Gospel:
“God so LOVED the world, that he sent his only son…”

This is important, because a lot of people really don’t focus 
on what that love actually means. 
Maybe they believe God exists, but he leaves us on our own. 
Or, they think God just has a vaguely positive attitude toward us. 

But neither of those are love
If a mom or a dad left their kids by themselves, 
or else just let them do what they liked and said, “hey whatever!” 
No one would call that love.

So to use the words of today’s Gospel:
God did not send his son into a world that didn’t need him!
And God did not send his son, to be indifferent to the world;
No: “God so LOVED the world…

Love is involved. Love is passionate. Love hangs in.
Love pays close attention. 
As kids, we know our parents love us for many reasons. 
One is when we realize, slowly, 
how much our mom and dad sacrifice for us. 
Another is that we know our parents won’t just give us 
whatever we want; but they will always give us what we need.

There’s another point here, and this is for many who are listening.
Many people allow fear to rule their faith.
“Fear of God” is a good thing, but there is both 
something called “holy fear” and “unholy fear.” What’s the difference?

Holy fear says, I don’t want to hurt my father or mother on earth,
or my Father in heaven, out of respect and reverence. 
But under, above and behind that is a certain knowledge 
that your parents – and your heavenly Father – 
have an unshakable love for you.

Meanwhile, unholy fear freezes us and fills us with worry.
Maybe I didn’t confess my sins exactly correctly? 
Maybe God didn’t forgive me? I’m sure God has finally had it with me!

Listen once more to what Jesus said:
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.”

God is not a vindictive referee who can’t wait to throw a flag on you: “Gotcha!” 
No, God is like the coach, or the parent, who roots for you, 
who backs you up, and when you fall, picks you up, saying, 
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you!”

Today is Trinity Sunday, and we recall that Jesus himself taught us 
that the Father is God, he, the Son, is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; 
not three Gods, but only one God. 

You and I don’t have to grasp this or explain this fully.
We believe it because we believe him. 
We trust him, listen to him, stay close to him:
and we will be happy with the Divine Trinity forever!

The reason Jesus came into the heart of the world, 
becoming one of us, was precisely to bring us into the heart of God; 
into the very center of the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today we will have First Holy Communion for our second graders. 
They have hungered for this moment,
and this year, of course, they had to wait an extra six weeks.

That love, that hunger, that is the Holy Spirit in you!
It is the Holy Spirit who loves the Father and the Son;
And so he draws you where the Son came to bring you: to the Father!

The Holy Mass is how we experience this. 
The Mass is a summary, a making-present, for us, 
of all that Jesus did for us.

In the Gloria and the Creed, we recall his birth;
We hear his teaching in the Gospel;
You and I gather with him, with the Apostles, as if at the Last Supper;
And with Mary, we are at the Cross with him.

But we aren’t afraid, because we know he rose from the dead.
We know he reigns in heaven forever – and will bring us to be with him!

And the Holy Eucharist is what Jesus gives us, again and again, throughout our lives, 
so that we’ll know and hear Jesus say:
I came here, for you, to love you and to save you.
I came to you, to bring you with me to heaven, forever!

When you and I receive Holy Communion, 
we are not receiving a “thing,” an object; but a Person.
A living, breathing, passionate, loving Divine Person: Jesus.

The Eucharist is sharing – communion – in all Jesus does, and all he IS.

Second graders, maybe you think, this is over my head.
You know what? It’s over all our heads, mine too! But it’s OK!

Like the Trinity, you and I don’t have to grasp this fully;
It is God who grasps us fully! Our hands are small and tentative;
God’s embrace of us is loving and strong, he will hold on to us forever!

This is your first Holy Communion, with so many more to come.
The most important, as I’ve told you before, is that last communion; 
that last taste of heaven in this world, before we close our eyes the final time, 
and discover Jesus was true to his word:
He led us safely home to be happy with him forever.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Bad priests, bad cops

Creator: Octavio Duran | Credit: CNS photo/Octavio Duran

As we all know, there are some who are called in a special way to protect and to serve. Their task is to lead, by word and example, others to a place of safety, and to protect against forces of evil. They are entrusted a great deal of power and responsibility, which if they misuse, can cause tremendous harm. Accordingly, we expect these individuals to be carefully chosen and vetted, and given extensive training, and subject to careful oversight.

Even so, sometimes these individuals fail in their duties to protect and to serve; what is appalling is when those who have responsibility for overseeing them, and enforcing upright conduct, likewise fail by looking the other way or slapping them on the wrist, or shifting the wrongdoers around.

All that said, when people point out these things, there can be a great deal of defensiveness: how dare you attack these self-sacrificing people who put their lives on the line for others? People don't appreciate how difficult their task is; they should just be grateful, rather than slander the whole group because of the wrong actions of a few.

Did you think I was talking about the situation with our police in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis? Actually, this was kind of a trick: I was describing the misconduct of priests, and the inaction of bishops, but of course, I might just as easily have been talking about misconduct of police officers. It occurred to me this morning that there are lot of parallels.

Both police officers and priests:

- are supposed to be the good guys.
- are given significant power and authority to influence the lives of others.
- deal with people in very difficult situations and see others at their worst.
- often work very hard and long hours and don't always feel appreciated.
- are misunderstood and treated with great disrespect by many, sometimes even feared.
- face a lot of stress in their chosen profession, and sometimes deal with that stress in poor ways, whether isolation, alcohol or other addictions.
- should be given extensive training; sometimes that training is lacking.
- among themselves emphasize a sense of brotherhood that can turn clubby and arrogant.
- sometimes make excuses for each other and cover for each other because most people just don't understand what it's like.
- get shifted around by supervisors when they do wrong and -- with their supervisors -- aren't always held accountable.

I can't know for sure, of course, but I think it's most likely that the rotten apples don't start out rotten. Either they start with small compromises that are followed by more and more; or they get cynical; or they get drawn into someone else's corruption; or they rationalize and minimize their immoral behaviors, trying and failing to contain them.

When we are talking about priests who preyed on children or vulnerable adults, what appalled me as a priest was the failure of bishops to act decisively. It has been called "the priest scandal," but in fairness, it might easily and justly be called "the bishop scandal." To this day, the accountability that was applied to priests has not yet been applied to bishops. A priest can and will be removed immediately upon only an accusation, and he may never get his good name back, even if that accusation never goes to court, and is never really substantiated. A priest operates under a guilty-till-proven-innocent standard. We're told that's necessary for the good of all. But I must point out, this standard is not applied to bishops. But because pressure really built up after the exposure of the misdeeds of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, bishops are now subject to some measure of accountability, although it doesn't work the same as how it works for priests.

Now let's talk about police officers. When they misuse their power and authority, they are subject to investigation, and I can only imagine how that can be. Sometimes they are removed, sometimes not. Sometimes they are indicted, sometimes not. They are not often convicted. One reason why is that the courts, over the decades, have developed a legal doctrine of "qualified immunity," which -- as a non-lawyer, I will describe this way: people who act in their capacity as public officials or law enforcement, enjoy some measure of immunity from legal consequences when things go wrong. No doubt there are good reasons for this, but it should also be obvious that if it goes wrong, or is misapplied, then wrong-doers are going to get away with murder. This is exactly what people have been talking about in recent years with cases of police officers implicated in suspicious deaths of people in their custody. So often the issue focused on is race; and while there's no doubt race plays a role, the issue of qualified immunity is neglected.

Another similarity is that a lot of us want very much to believe priests and police officers are good guys, and in the case of juries where police officers are on trial, I can only imagine the difficulty they are in. After all, the law is: innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet when police are enforcing the law -- usually against bad people -- there must be all kinds of ways to entertain reasonable doubt. And for a long time, this is how it was for priests, with the "jury" made up of parents, parishioners and public officials. Children would bravely report that a priest had done wrong to them, and they weren't believed. Even by their own parents; and even judges and law enforcement waved away the accusations. It wasn't just bishops who looked the other way. But finally the stench became too great and now priests enjoy no immunity at all.

One huge difference between priests and police officers? The latter have powerful unions. The difference between the higher-ups in charge of supervising police, and those who oversee priests? Bishops don't have the benefit of "civil service" protections; and they don't collect taxes.

The death of George Floyd, under the knee of a police officer, has sparked days of riots and looting, in the name of "protest"; even as others genuinely are trying to protest, and protest they must. There is a need for reform. By all means, let's say again how terrible racism is (and it is), and do what we can to eradicate it. But maybe it is time to review the laws and protections that make holding people accountable harder? Maybe it's time to increase the accountability for those higher up the food chain? Some of these are political questions, of course; meaning, that voters must be prepared to hold elected officials accountable. That's all of us.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Being our best in this pandemic (Pentecost homily)

So, what’s on our mind this Pentecost?

Well, you and I have made a lot of adjustments, with more to come.
Even though we are finally back in church,
as you can see, we are keeping lots of pews empty, 
and I’m asking lots of you to come to Mass, not on Sunday, 
but during the week.  
I don’t like that, but it’s simply being practical. 

That’s why we created the “Show of Hands” sign-up 
which you can access online. 
This is just so all of can see which Masses 
are likely to have “traffic jams,” 
and maybe you will want to shift around to lessen that.

Several times each week, the ushers will be wiping down 
the pews with disinfectant. 
We don’t need to do it after every Mass, because in many cases, 
there’s enough time between, say, Mass on Sunday, at 11, 
and then Monday, at 7 pm, for any germs to die. 

But for example, from Monday evening to Tuesday morning, 
not enough time; so we’ll wipe the pews on Monday evening, 
and again on Wednesday – twice – 
and then between Masses on Saturday and Sunday. 

If you want to help, just check in at the sacristy after Mass.
That would be great if you can do that. 
And to emphasize, I just told you Monday Mass is now at 7 pm
as is Wednesday evening Mass. Friday morning Mass is now at 7 am.
This gives more options for more to come during the week. 
For Holy Communion, we’ll have someone in front, and someone in back, 
distributing the Holy Eucharist. The ushers will guide you. 
Those of us who are distributing the Eucharist 
will have a dish of disinfectant so that we avoid transmitting germs.

Next Sunday, June 7, at the 11 am Mass, is First Communion. 
Obviously the church will be nearly full, so please plan accordingly.

By the way – in all this we’ve been dealing with, 
you, the people of St. Remy, have been WONDERFUL. 
I know all this change is not easy. 
No doubt everything wasn’t explained enough and was confusing,
and it’s certain we didn’t get everything right.

But you have been flexible and understanding and prayerful, 
and for that, I THANK YOU. And, forgive me, 
but we’ll need your patience to continue, again thanks! 

Meanwhile so many challenges are before us. 
Many of our fellow citizens have died, and we’re not out of the woods. 
Lots of people are on the front lines, whether in health care, 
or public safety, or in keeping food and other essentials flowing.
They deserve our thanks and our help. 
Most people have taken a financial hit, some very badly. 

On the other hand: there’s so much to be thankful for. 
A few months ago, there was dread and dire predictions.
Thank heaven the worst we feared did not happen! 

Step by step, ordinary human life is resuming, and we all want more,
even as we each do our part to protect and help 
those who are vulnerable or have been hit hard 
by this epidemic and the fallout from it.

And remember: you and I are not powerless! 
Even when we were not able to be at Mass TOGETHER, Mass continued, 
and that is not a small thing. 
The Holy Mass is the most powerful force in the universe. 
I say that because Mass is the action of Jesus, 
and what power can even approach his? 
So we are not afraid!

Times like these bring out both the worst in people, but also the best. 
Lots of people reacting badly, 
but also, lots of people being calm and courageous and generous.

Which all leads to the main – and a really simple – point:

What makes the difference? The answer is the Holy Spirit! 
He is at work in our prayers, in our patience and courage, 
our good humor and generosity. 
If we don’t listen to the Holy Spirit, 
that is when bitterness and fear begin to grow. 
Our task is to heal and build, not to tear apart. 
Who would have guessed a big debate would be over…wearing masks?

Again, times like these bring out both the best in us and the worst. 
What does the Holy Spirit want? What do you want?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Mass, like the Ascension, is about us getting to heaven (Sunday homily)

The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us. 
Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us: 
he goes ahead of us, to heaven. That’s where he wants us. 
The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.

Likewise, our worship together 
is likewise about getting us to heaven.

Not everyone really gets this. 
For one, way too many people take going to heaven for granted, 
pretty much no matter what. 
So if Mass isn’t about heaven, what is it about? 
Well, for a lot of people, they see it as helping their outlook on life, 
or giving them something to think about, or mainly feeling good. 
I know these things are true because people have said them to me.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these things, 
but I’m sorry, those are not the point of Mass. 
Rather, Mass exists primarily to get people to heaven.

The Mass is essentially the same thing as the Cross. 
Jesus did not go to the Cross to make anyone feel good, 
or to improve anyone’s outlook on life. 
He went to the Cross because of all the ways 
God might have rescued and transformed humanity, 
this was the best way. It’s what we need.

Had you been there, on Good Friday, as Jesus was in agony, 
you would not have felt good. 
Not everything Jesus said and taught was comforting. 
Much of it was shocking, and if I am doing my job, 
sometimes I will be shocking, too: 
like an alarm clock that wakes us up, 
or a medicine that hurts while it heals.

If you listen closely to the prayers of Mass, 
you will hear words like sin and judgment and damnation, 
as well as words like forgiveness, grace, conversion and salvation. 
The souls of the human race hang in the balance! 
Through Jesus, you and I plead for mercy and rescue! 
There’s a house on fire, and Christ is the one putting out the fire. 
You are here, not to watch, but to help pass the buckets!

It has been painful not to be able to attend Mass the past few weeks, 
and how happy we all are to start again this week.

While I’m on that subject, let me do a little housekeeping.
First, I still need 160 people to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. 
This will help, and it costs you nothing. Please help with this.

Second, I sent out via email a link to an online sign-up. 
The only reason we’re doing that is so you can get a sense 
of how many people to expect at each Mass this week through Sunday. 
No one has to sign up; and no will be turned away. 
If more show up than can sit in church,
we’ll have chairs for outside, 
or you can join in on your phone in your car. 

The idea is that all of us see the whole picture, 
which Masses are more crowded, and each of us 
can try to spread out over the whole week, 
and make it work better.
So please keep checking back to see what days are crowded,
and make your own decision about which one Mass, 
between now and Sunday, you will attend. 

I’m not saying people can’t go to Mass more than once a week;
it’s like a family dinner: let’s make sure everyone gets “firsts” 
before we go back for “seconds.”
My plan is to try these sign-ups for a few weeks,
and we can get into a rhythm that works reasonably well.
Let’s focus on being patient and flexible this first week back.

Above all, please take reassurance in the fact that all this time, 
the Holy Mass has continued to be offered; 
here in this and every parish. 

I’m glad we have the technical means to send it out over the Internet, 
but even if not, the power of the Mass remains. 

We don’t need wifi or Facebook or YouTube to connect to heaven: 
Jesus does that, through this and every Mass. 

It’s a little mind-boggling to say, but this is true: 
Jesus is on the throne of heaven, at the right hand of the Father. 
We’re part of his Body, so we’re really there with him. 
And when we offer Mass, however humbly, through a sinner such as me, 
Jesus is the true priest, and however far away heaven seems to us, 
it really isn’t! We’re right there! The connection is instant and secure!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

How to be a disciple (Sunday homily)

Let’s notice some things about the first reading.

First, we see what Jesus promised the Apostles is starting to happen. 
He said they would be his witnesses “
in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” 

Second, we learn some things about the sacraments of baptism, 
confirmation and holy orders. 
This Philip is one of the seven men chosen to be the first deacons; 
he goes to Samaria and baptizes new believers. 
Then the Apostles come later with the sacrament of confirmation. 

There’s another detail that is really important. 
This passage teaches us about overcoming 
the barriers and prejudices that keep people apart. 

The Apostles and first believers were Jews; 
Samaritans were looked down upon as not being true children of Israel. 
It all had to do with centuries of history I won’t go into, 
but suffice to say Jews tended to stand apart from Samaritans – 
if not to look down on them – and Samaritans surely resented it. 

If we want to apply this to our present day, 
we might think about urban versus rural, 
“red state” versus “blue state,” Democrat or Republican, and the like. 

However deep these divides, 
God wants us to be ready and willing to overcome these barriers. 

It may be that only the intervention of the Holy Spirit can do it; 
if so, then you and I must pray and fast for that very outcome, 
rather than just writing people off or walking away 
or getting into bitter arguments. 

Our task is to bring the Holy Spirit to people, 
so they can profess faith in Jesus Christ.

How do we do that? Saint Peter tells us in the second reading. 
Notice what he tells us to do:

First, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” 
That means, keep our spiritual life in order. Be in a state of grace. 
We don’t have to be perfect, but be penitent.

Then, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone 
who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 
There it is! That is how you and I, everyone of every age, 
can share our Faith!

You don’t have to be a scholar or an expert debater. 
Simply “be ready” to explain the “reason for your hope.” 
Do you have hope in God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession? 
Hope in God’s providence to lead you through this world of troubles 
to eternal life? If so, why? 

Your reason for believing and living as a Catholic will be your own; 
different from hers or his or theirs or mine. 

Of course, all this means living so that people actually notice, 
and wonder, “what’s up with her?” 

I don’t mean showing off. 
But do people see us as cheerful and forgiving and generous? 

Finally, Peter tells us, share our faith and our hope 
“with gentleness and reverence.” 

My gosh, it would be curtains for a lot of websites 
if we Christians all practiced “gentleness and reverence.” 

It’s so easy to go on Facebook and dash off a few choice words 
about the president or the governor or the archbishop 
or whoever else has us all charged up. 

If that’s your temptation, maybe print out these words, 
“gentleness and reverence,” 
and past them over the top of your computer. 
“Gentleness and reverence.” That’s not so much the way to win an argument, 
as Fulton Sheen used to say, but to win souls.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

We want the Eucharist; we need the Mass (Sunday homily)

First let’s talk about something we heard in the Gospel just now.

When our Lord refers to his “Father’s house” 
having many “dwelling places,” I bet most of us think of heaven. 
That’s not exactly wrong, but there’s a lot more going on.

At that time, people would have heard “Father’s house” 
and thought of the temple at the center of Jerusalem.
Jesus and the Apostles spent a lot of time there, after all. 

But remember that on another occasion, 
Jesus said he, himself, is the new temple: his body. 
And recall he also said, I am the vine, you are the branches.

So what really is the “Father’s House,” the new temple, 
where the Apostles – and us – are meant to dwell?

He’s talking about the Church! 
It is the Church that will do the “greater works,” 
as amazing as that is to say. 
A great theologian said that reviving someone’s immortal soul, 
in confession, is greater work than the resurrection of Lazarus, 
and I agree with that.

But this is something of an abstract reality we can lose sight of.

Right now, with all our lives disrupted, 
is when you and I are really challenged to ask ourselves: 
Do I really believe I am part of this house of God? 
Do I really think I’m part of doing greater works than Jesus’ miracles? 
Or is my faith shaken because my regular routine is gone? 
Because we are deprived for the time being from coming to Mass, 
because we haven’t been able to receive the Eucharist for many weeks?

Don’t get me wrong, we need the Eucharist, 
and being able to be present for Holy Mass is very important. 

Still, while this bad thing is so strange to us, 
it is something that has happened pretty frequently to Christians 
down the centuries, and to the present. 

In the Amazon area of South America, with so few priests, 
it is routine for Catholics not to have Mass at all for many months.
That’s been their reality for a really long time.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not good. We don’t want it to go on. 
But it’s our decision whether we let it shake our faith,
Or whether we decide to dig deeper.

In the meantime, let’s be grateful for the mercies and graces 
that come our way.

As you know by now, Deacon Mike Meyer, Deacon Elijah Puthoff and I 
are going to be distributing the Holy Eucharist 
at St. Remy Church today from noon to 2 pm. 

I’ve put out on Facebook some directions for everyone to follow, 
which we also emailed, and I ask everyone to take a look at that. 
It’s all common-sense things, but the point is to help us do two things. 
Be safe, and be reverent.
I will be very candid with you: I took this course very cautiously,
Because it could go badly. 

First, we could be overwhelmed, 
if everyone’s friends and relatives come from four counties. 

And, second, what we’ll do today is not normal and can’t become normal. 
It’s a bad thing to disconnect the Eucharist from the Mass.
It was already a problem that too many Catholics really don’t get 
what the Mass truly is, which is Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
It really is that simple: the Mass is the Cross;

But people don’t see it with their eyes, 
so they don’t “see” it in their faith. 
They miss this, and this is a big thing to miss.

And we don’t want to make this problem worse.

I’m not saying it’s not good to hunger for the Eucharist, 
I’m saying you and I don’t want to focus on a part and miss the whole.

Oh, and one more thing. Because of what I decided to do, 
other priests are going to get pressure, and that’s not right.
I asked permission of the Archbishop and he gave it, 
but other priests are legitimately waiting for further instructions.

The Archbishop gets criticized, but he’s in tough spot and he’s trying.
None of us has a roadmap for this situation; none of us.
We don’t always have to see things the same way,
But each of us can and must treat each other with charity.
Fighting each other, accusing each other of bad faith
Undermines the grace and good we seek from the Eucharist!

All that said, let’s try this. 
Please keep safe distances and be prayerful and patient 
while waiting in line. 
You may be waiting outside for awhile – 
dress warmly and bring a Rosary or something else for prayer.

This is a temporary measure while we look forward 
to resuming Mass starting Monday, May 25. 
There is more adjusting to do, more patience needed; 
thanks for keeping an even keel so far. 
Don’t let these times shake your faith;
But rather, seek to deepen it.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Dogging the bishops and the governor

The past few weeks of our country being locked down, and of lots of us being locked out of Mass, of work, of our normal lives has been accompanied by a rising and falling level of complaining, conspiracy-mongering and anger over the decisions made by higher-ups.

A more thoughtful and nuanced commentary will follow, but if you want the TL;DR* summary, here it is: Knock it off!

Now for nuance.

Am I saying every decision was correct? Made by the President, his advisors, Congress, the federal bureaucrats, the governors and local officials and their advisors, or the bishops and their advisors -- or, for that matter, parish priests and their advisors?

Oh, assuredly not. Guaranteed not. Even the pope is only infallible in matters of faith and morals, and only then when he is actually proposing teaching to the Church (as opposed to musing about this or that over a cup of mate).

So, first, if you don't agree with every decision these folks have made, that's fine. And your ideas may indeed be better. Voice your opinion.

But stop making everything about good versus evil. I mean: when various higher ups made the decisions they made, they acted on the information they had at the time. No one has a road map for this -- or, at least, few of us have such a thing. Even those in public health didn't really, because they didn't have all the facts about the virus itself at first, and even now, we still don't. How many people have been exposed? We don't know. How lethal is it? Don't know. Why does this group react one way, those folks another way? Don't know. But what about...don't know that either.

Now, I do think it's true that this experience has brought to the surface the basic instincts and mindsets of various leaders. Some people have tended to opt for top-down, micromanaging approaches. Others have opted for lots and lots of communication, while others have said rather little. So it goes. It is certainly fair to consider what we've learned about different folks in this...

As well as what we're learning about how the world works. People are surprised when something becomes more scarce or uncertain, it's price goes up. And it tends to disappear from the marketplace.

Or they are surprised -- or angry -- when various public edicts and policies don't seem to be consistent or entirely logical, or -- every teenager's favorite word -- "fair."

None of this should surprise any of us. Of course the relief efforts enacted by Congress end up with surprising and even stupid details. Of course the bureaucracy messes up its implementation. Of course this public order regarding Home Depot and Wal Mart doesn't seem to make sense in light of what went out regarding churches or backyard barbeques.

Decision-making in this sort of environment is going to be chaotic and urgent and thus with too little reflection. I'm betting assignments were handed out like this:

"You three -- you work something up for the sports leagues. You two -- you handle restaurants and pubs. Bill, Jake? Your job is grocery stores and gas stations. Here, take movie theaters too. It's 11:30 pm. The legal guys need it by 2 am so we can get it to the media shop by 5 am. Everyone get going!"

Of course they don't all line up with each other logically and consistently.

Those of us who dislike big government don't take that view because we expect devils to run things; we do it because we know for a fact that omniscient, all-benevolent angels will not be running things. Who will? Ordinary people, even earnest, caring people; but they will have all their human limits and it will get to be a mess because that's just the nature of the thing. It's not about malice (mostly; sometimes you get a joker in the deck), it's about things and people being what they are, and the better or worse ways to make it all work.

Edit 5/10/20: Let me add also that one other problem with big government is that as it becomes pushier, it will attract people who like to push people around. That's who will tend to step forward, and that's who will tend to be promoted, while those who really don't want to boss others around will avoid government jobs. The problem will tend to feed on itself.

Let's talk about Archbishop Schnurr. He's been the whipping boy for a lot of Catholics in the archdiocese through all this. Initially it was, why did he suspend the obligation to attend Mass. Then gasps everywhere when he said, we're suspending all public Masses. Then when that order was extended until near the end of May, even more anger.

Is he a bad guy? Is he lazy or uncaring? For example, does he not want people to go to Mass? Does he really think that the Mass, and the Eucharist, are "not essential"?

Well, look, I obviously can't peer into his soul, but that all sounds pretty ridiculous. There was a day when being a bishop meant a lot of perks and luxuries, but those days are gone. You get a few perks; and you get a lot of grief. He started out as a priest, and I can tell you, few priests really want to be a bishop, and those that do, I bet they have more than a few moments of regret for that desire.

Let's try some more likely explanations:

- He suspended the Mass obligation (along with other bishops) to relieve people's consciences in a difficult time. It spared a LOT of people agonizing over whether to go to Mass, because they don't feel that bad, and it saved a lot of time from phone calls to parish priests about these matters. Not so parish priests could watch baseball, but so they could attend to other things quickly coming down the Covid-19 pike.

- Schnurr suspended public Masses (and did a lot of other things) because the governor asked him to, and the governor was asking everyone to do these things, and how would it look if those Catholics (the governor's Catholic, by the way) thought they were better than the rest of us? Do you really expect the Archbishop to have known, with moral certainty, back in March, that churches full of Catholics wouldn't spread the virus? Imagine you're him. You don't know; and you are thinking about what happens when a few weeks later, the virus is reported to be spreading from Catholic churches. Think about how that sits with the rest of the state. How wonderful to be remembered for decades to come for helping to spread a deadly illness!

Oh, and let's dispense with this argument that if you have enough faith, bad things won't happen to you. So let's apply that argument to Catholics like Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio, who were executed during the Mexican Revolution: if only he'd had more faith! The bullets would not have killed him! Because this argument is exactly the same: if you have enough faith, you won't spread the virus, you won't catch the virus -- natural laws regarding viruses will not apply to you.

I'm not saying miracles can't happen or don't happen. But what do we call it when you do something reason tells you is dangerous, expecting God to deliver you? Presumption; tempting God.

More recently, I've heard folks say that the bishops should have just taken their own path, regardless of the governor, because the data pointed the way. Even assuming that's right, and the facts we have available are as clear as that, I think folks are underestimating the negative consequences that go with defying the governor, as well as -- to a lesser extent -- the bishops breaking ranks with each other. Making decisions as a group always entails negative consequences, which is why you don't want to do it all the time; but sometimes it's necessary. So the bishops decided to go together on these matters.

Just an aside -- I was reading over the directives we priests got yesterday from the Archdiocese, and it's all classic Schnurr; and I mean that in a good way. I was concerned that we would get fairly restrictive guidance; and, happily, it has much more flexibility. One thing I appreciate about the Archbishop is that he is willing to trust priests and parishes to work things out. He doesn't micromanage. (FWIW, neither did his predecessor, at least in my experience.)

Anyway, maybe all this is going to recede now that the bishops have announced we can soon start having Mass together again (starting Monday, May 25). But I think there are some things we learned about ourselves through all this. Times like this bring both virtue and vices to the surface. It would be far more fruitful (and unpleasant) to examine our own choices in all this, rather than looking around for people to blame and criticize.

* "too long; didn't read"

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Please let us have the Eucharist!

This is a somewhat difficult homily to give.
The readings are all about hungering for the Holy Eucharist – 
a great thing to talk about for a Catholic priest! – 
but how am I supposed to talk about this, now, 
when you and I cannot come together at Holy Mass 
to satisfy that hunger? It seems cruel to talk about this!

And to make it even worse, today was supposed to be 
First Communion for our second graders!

So, there’s no getting around our bad feeling about all this.

Still, let’s encourage each other with this knowledge:
Our forced-fast from the Body and Blood of Jesus 
cannot go on much longer.

And now that I think about it, maybe trying to increase your hunger for the Eucharist 
is exactly the right thing to do –
Because perhaps that longing will be the fuel for our prayers, 
as a community, for this exile from Holy Mass to end at last.

This is a good time to recall something Pope John Paul II talked about:
“Eucharistic Amazement.” He meant that when you and I 
really ponder deeply the reality of the Mass – 
the reality of God becoming human, solely for our sake, 
with the Cross being the goal all along…

Taking in this astonishing fact: that Jesus did all this by choice!
That the Father would, in the words of the Exsultet Prayer,
“ransom a slave by giving away his Son”!

It is astounding that God would love each of us, every single one of us, 
that much. And yet the Cross – and the Eucharist – are proof.

A few years ago I made a trip to Italy with a group of pilgrims,
And we visited a site of one of many Eucharistic miracles.
We were able to behold and adore a Sacred Host that had – 
in the hands of a doubting priest – become human flesh. 
That is one of many such Eucharistic miracles over the centuries.

At Mass, during my homily, I gestured toward the miracle, 
right in front of us, and I asked the pilgrims: “What more do we need?”

And I ask you the same question, as Mass is happening right now,
And the miracle of transubstantiation will happen in a few minutes,
And I will lift up the true Body and Blood of Jesus before your gaze.
I ask you: what more do you we need?

You have experienced a kind of “Babylonian Exile” 
from Mass for the past few weeks. 
Why has God allowed this? What does this mean? 
We can only guess.
Is it a call to repentance? 
Is it a rebuke to those who treated the Mass as not very important? 

And could it be an invitation from heaven for each of us, all of us,
To examine ourselves, and above all, to beg heaven.
I was about to say, to beg for the end of this exile from Mass,
And of course that’s what we all want.

But it occurs to me that something else is even more important:
That our love for Jesus, for the Mass, for his Body and Blood, 
grow stronger and stronger. 
And I say that to myself first and last. 

It’s very easy for us priests to congratulate ourselves on our learning, 
our experiences, and whatever sacrifices come our way – 
as if they don’t come your way as much, or more.
It’s very easy to have a kind of “insider” mindset and get lazy.

Many times I have had God remind me and challenge me
By showing me the depth, not of my faith, but yours!
Maybe it’s those who kneel for a long time 
on cold, hard pavement outside St. Remy Hall. 

Or those second graders who have inspired me over many years,
Including those who not only were eager for their First Communion, 
But kept coming back, again and again and again.

So let’s do this together, brothers and sisters:
Pray for me as I pray for you, that our desire for Jesus will grow.
And may that longing be the driving force of prayer 
that storms heaven and begs, please! 
Let us please come back to Mass again!