Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

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

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

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

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

nor does it minimize the wrong. 

Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.

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

Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

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

That’s normal.

So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

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

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

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

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


This is a good time to remember something 

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

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

It may not make you feel good.

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

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!

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

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

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

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

That’s right; think about hell.

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

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

The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

And he is always warning ordinary people about hell.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

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

Let’s try (count to ten).

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

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

That means wishing those people in hell. 

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

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

but you don’t want to be part of it? 

Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

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

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

See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

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

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

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

you can apply for the Justice Plan.

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

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

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

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

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

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

without exception. 

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

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

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

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

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

In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

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

to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

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

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

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

Sunday, September 06, 2020

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

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

got me thinking: who is our watchman?

Who is supposed to be looking out for us, 

warning this community against danger?

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

It would include our mayor and school superintendent 

and those who work with them.

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

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

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

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

it’s finally showing up in Russia.

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

Our seminarian, Isaiah, is going to be quarantined 

because he sat with someone at breakfast last week; 

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

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

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

I won’t be distributing Holy Communion, 

so I ask for an extra helper to come forward.

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

And they, in turn, must rely on state authorities 

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

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

It doesn’t take long before trust breaks down.

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

or for the people in Washington.

Does anyone trust the media anymore?

So when the governor – and the Archbishop – 

ask us to wear masks and not crowd together,

a lot of people don’t want to listen.

I see friends of mine on Facebook circulating things 

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

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

why do trust these sources you’re circulating?

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

What else can I do? 

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

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

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

So when it comes to the governor or the Archbishop,

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

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

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

or so beyond reproach; that rarely happens.

You and I listen and try to cooperate 

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

and it’s the same for this community.

And right now, with greater incidents of this virus,

some of the trust we take for granted is fraying.

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

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

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

a way to combat the special virus of gossip.

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

Jesus says, go directly to that person.

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

Understandable, but it only makes things worse.

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

but some are vulnerable;

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

to ease the anxieties of others 

sounds to me like a pretty Christian thing to do.

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

which we’ve been slack about lately.

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

and continue to spread out.

Some of us may have to sit outside, 

that avoids crowding into the back of the church.

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

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

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

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

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

Also, for those who distribute Holy Communion, 

please use hand sanitizer, please wear a mask,

and please frequently sanitize your fingers 

with the disinfectant provided in these silver bowls.

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

It won’t go on forever. 

And this I can say with absolute confidence:

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

These trials WILL help us grow in holiness.

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

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

all during this period.

Keep good cheer and good humor.

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

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Let's talk about fear (Sunday homily)

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

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

it would be natural for Peter and the other disciples 

to fear being killed along with him.

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

and all but one of the other apostles ran away. 

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

between the concerns about the Covid virus, 

and what’s happening in the economy, 

and the violence and disorder in so many places, 

and a national election on top of all that. 

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

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

maybe turn off the TV news? 

Maybe spend less time on social media? 

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

which is not the same thing as fear, 

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

Prudence is how we try to keep some balance, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds more like presumption.

Remember when the devil tempted Jesus and said,

Jump off the temple, the angels will save you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst place on earth; hell on earth.

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

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

Thinking again about Good Friday:

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

we know nothing about what they were doing, 

and even more, what they were thinking? 

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

and I wonder if – when they ran and hid – 

that sudden separation from Jesus horrified them far more 

than their fear of suffering, and even death?

Because after the Resurrection, they never ran away again.

They all faced death for Jesus, with complete calm.

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

after Peter says what he says. 

Not only is the Cross in view for Jesus, 

the cross lies ahead for you and me.

There is no other way.

It’s not that our Lord is cruel; 

Rather, Jesus knows we will cling to everything: 

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

or to our health, or our careers, 

or our expectations about the election, 

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

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

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

and finally, all we have left is Christ. 

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

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

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

Sunday, August 23, 2020

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

Every year at this time, we remember the solemn dedication

of this church as a sacred place.

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

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

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

Maybe something sacred happens there, 

but the building itself isn’t necessarily important. 

This reflects the predominant religious culture of our country,

which is deeply Protestant. 

Most Protestant traditions simply don’t have this concept 

of a place being permanently and essentially holy. 

In fact, when the Protestant “Reformation” spread,

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

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

were either destroyed, or stripped bare.

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

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

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

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

This happened for two reasons.

First, in recent decades, there was a concerted effort 

by some of our bishops and priests 

to emulate what they saw in these Protestant churches.

So has this happened to you?

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

and you almost drive past it: why?

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

Then you step inside, and you look around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the suburbs exploded, and bishops were racing 

to build parishes and parish schools right and left.

Many times they would build a “church” 

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

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

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

Or they never got around to it –

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

So given this context, what we do this weekend 

is all the more important:

to remind ourselves about this Catholic way 

of claiming parts of this world for heaven.

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

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

where God and humanity walked together.

So notice when Jesus purifies the temple, 

he is furious that this sacred, heavenly place – 

has been turned into what? A “marketplace.”

There’s nothing wrong with a marketplace.

But this place is consecrated for one, specific thing:

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

And then Jesus makes a cryptic comment,

that the Apostles later realize refers to himself:

He, Jesus, is the true and final temple;

the one the Jerusalem temple was meant to foreshadow.

That old temple was, in fact, destroyed;

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

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

than the Body of Jesus itself? 

When you and I think in those terms, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to pray as he prays…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, we can forget that, and profane ourselves;

But the fact remains that Jesus has claimed us,

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

Meanwhile, Jesus is still setting living stones in place.

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

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

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

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

to gather living stones, here.

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

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

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

no matter what limits you face,

can you help this happen? Of course!

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

But what you are; so be faithful.

You are a witness: 

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

Let people see who you really are, 

sacred and set apart to show Christ to the world.

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mary's victory and ours (Assumption homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

'Emergency' and schism: Father Leatherby of Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 09, 2020

What if there had been no storm? (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter: that word is discouragement. 
So: if you feel discouraged or disheartened, you are in good company. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain because he is discouraged. 
He tried to spark revival of faith, and the queen seeks to kill him. 
He feels very alone and overwhelmed. 

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ. 

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, and he begins to sink. 

There is a cure for discouragement, and the readings also tell us what that is as well: 
Staying close to Jesus. 

Notice what happened in the Gospel: 
When Peter kept his thoughts and focus on Jesus, 
He had courage and boldness, and no fear. What went wrong? 

When he looked away – at the storm. Then he sank. 

I think a lot of us have made that mistake too. 

A lot of us keep up with the news, and that’s important; 
You and I need to be well informed. 
But I will confess, here and now, that I overdo it, 
And I know I’m not the only one. 

My strategy is I almost never watch TV news, and only listen to a little radio. 
God bless them, but what do they do? 
They tell us that you and I need to be all worked up! 
You had better be mad! And you’d better be scared

Even when the news is good, they make it sound bad. 

So while some of us do need to get better informed,
others of us could do with a fast from Fox News or MSNBC.
And, I might add, this applies to other people’s outrage.
Some people aren’t happy unless they are mad about something;
And they want to make you mad about it, too.

Don’t let their storms draw your attention from Jesus. 

These strange and frustrating times are getting in the way 
of a lot of things we want to do. 
Worse is how many people have lost work, 
And there is too much uncertainty and disruption. 
Still, try to keep an even keel. 

In 1940, things were terrible. 
The world was at war and evil was on the march. 
The Great Depression had been going on for a decade. 
And if you lived then, and anyone had told you 
what the next five years of war would bring, you would have been terrified! 

And then, if they’d told you what the five years after that would bring: 
victory, peace, prosperity and amazing accomplishments; 
you would have thought it was nonsense. 

We can’t see through the storm, why try? 
Jesus is right here with us, walking straight through it. 
The storms and trouble can do a lot of damage, 
But there’s one thing they can never do: 
Keep Jesus from coming to us in our struggle. 

The disciples wanted Jesus to get in the boat with them. 
That was what they knew; it was as much security as they could have. 
But notice: Jesus didn’t really want that; 
He wanted them to get out of the boat! Peter did it! 
And, although he walked on water only briefly before failing, 
I have no doubt he remembered that experience, 
That exhilaration, that victory! 
And even his failure didn’t erase it; 

And his later victories of faith built on this. 
But what if there had been a storm? 
 Then Peter would never have stepped out.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

'Accept no substitutes' (Sunday homily)

Notice the question 
Saint Paul asked you in the second reading:
“What will separate us from the love of Christ?”

First he reminds us what will NOT separate us: 
“anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, 
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” He could have said, 
war or election results or economic downturn or Covid-19.

Therefore, what he left out is the answer, i.e., what CAN separate: 
And that is us, you and me.
Our choices can, indeed, separate us from the love of Christ.

How often we focus our energy on things we cannot change, 
rather than on what actually is in our own power, namely:
my heart; my thoughts, my reactions, my choices.

This calls to mind a prayer I often pray, and recommend to others:
“Lord, give me the ‘want-to’”; Give me the desire.
Of course, what I’m really referring to is the Holy Spirit:
He is the “want-to,” the desire, that we receive in baptism;
He draws us always to Jesus, always to be close to him.

Day by day you and I get distracted by other things, 
and it is the Holy Spirit who calls us back, every time, 
to the love of Christ.

Of course, you’re here – that “want-to” has brought you here. 
I’m not just patting you on the back. I’m calling attention 
to the work of God and the action of grace in your life. Notice this!
It is the Holy Spirit, within your heart, that thirsts for God;
And as needed, He will prompt you to realize distance has crept in,
and prod you to draw close again.

This will sound paradoxical, but:
Where our usual goal is to make hunger go away,
Here, it is exactly the opposite.
You and I must stay hungry; indeed, grow hungrier still.
Ravenous; panting and desperate for God!

Isaiah warns us, how easy to feed our God-hunger 
with the wrong stuff. 
How dangerous that is! 

Right now, many aren’t coming to Mass for very good reasons – 
because of health concerns or lack of seating.
Totally understandable.
But let me say out loud what many of us wonder about:
That when the Covid crisis passes, some people won’t be back.

All I can say to you, and encourage you to repeat to others, is:
Only Jesus truly feeds us. Only Jesus makes sense of life.
Only He is solid; everything else can fail.

One day, soon or late, all that I love in this world will fade away.
Same for you: and each of us will be alone. 
You and God, you and Jesus Christ.
Either we will be able to say, “I sought you, you fed me”;
Or he will say, “I never knew you.” 

How good and generous Jesus is to you and me!
Those little nudges from the Holy Spirit,  
that keep on track, or get back where we need to be.
“Pick up the Rosary!” he murmurs, or “turn off the computer!”
Or, “get to confession” or, “Come spend time with Me!”

How good Jesus is to us!
Jesus gives us his own words in the Scriptures.
Once Bibles were rare and few could read them. 
Now everyone can breathe the pure oxygen of God’s Word 
as often and as much as we want. 

How good the Lord Jesus is to you and me!
He also gives us the saints. 
We don’t always know how to live the right way, so we learn from them.
They accompany us, they pray for us, they encourage us.
No matter how alone you may feel, you are never alone.
There is a great crowd of witnesses with you every day!

How good Jesus is to us!
He gives us the sacraments, above all, the Eucharist.
The Mass brings us to Calvary, with Mary and John.
Notice in the Gospel, Jesus said, gather every bit of bread,
And each Apostle had a full basket. What did they do with it?
Maybe they gave it away in the next town,
Or maybe that was their own food for the next couple of days?

See how they treasured what was mere, ordinary bread, 
and why not? It came [miraculously]* from the hand of Jesus himself!
Now see what Jesus gives us: not bread at all – but His Body, his Blood, 
taken from his side, pierced on the Cross, so we can live forever! 

How good Jesus is to us!
There's an old TV slogan, from advertising, and it went like this:
“Accept no substitutes!” 

* Added at several Masses.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Jesus wants no weeds, only the best of wheat (Sunday homily)

Our daily choices are how we sow either good or bad seed,
so that either the field of our soul is full of virtue, 
or it is crowded with the weeds of vice and sin.

I was reading a book by Father Basil Maturin, 
an Irish priest from a century ago, who talks about this parable. 
It was he who saw the field as our own lives. 

Father Maturin asked, “How often, as we look into our souls, 
and wonder at the evil we find there, do we not ask ourselves” 
where do these weeds come from? 
Where do laziness, wrath, lust and greed, 
and the trials that go with them, come from? 

And the answer is, “An enemy has done this.”

Now, to be clear: the devil certainly does not “make me” do it.
The enemy makes suggestions, often very seductive and appealing ones, 
but the choice is mine. 

So the point is, you and I cannot be too careful about what evil 
we allow the enemy to sow in our lives. 

There’s a famous saying, attributed to many people:
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; 
Sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

It doesn’t take much time given to the Internet, 
going to dark places, to allow a foul habit to take deep root. 

There are folks who think this isn’t any big deal. 
Let me tell you: there is a growing number of people 
who are finding it difficult to have a healthy relationship 
with the opposite sex because of pornography. 
It is poisoning marriages, even before they begin,
And it is contributing to marital breakups. 

So it’s vital to guard our eyes from what is degrading; 
our ears from gossip and toxic words of anger and hate;
our heart from envy; our stomach from gluttony.

Of course, a lot of us can say, too late! 
These weeds are already in my life! 
We are frustrated to face these same weeds, 
week after week throughout our lives. 
Why doesn’t the Lord simply tear them out, when we beg him to do so?

Sometimes it happens: we have a moment of conversion 
and we receive the grace to completely overcome that bad habit; 
the weeds are, indeed, ripped out. 
But do you know what often happens next?
Someone who received a great gift of deliverance slowly slides back.

As much as we hate it, for virtue to grow in our lives, 
we’re better off if it comes hard rather than easy;
just as it takes hard, physical labor to build our lungs and muscles.

At the conference I attended last week, 
in one of the talks the priest said, 
it is in our darkest and lowest places where we so quickly meet Jesus.
That is where we experience him most powerfully.
There’s no place for pride when we’re flat on our face.

So, when you find it discouraging to go to confession, again, and again,
with the same sin – realize, that is exactly the medicine you need. 
It is the enemy who says, you can’t fight the weeds, 
just let them grow. 

There’s something the Gospel doesn’t say, yet we know it’s true:
Jesus has the power to turn weeds into wheat.
I know this is true because I’ve seen it in my own life,
And there are people in this parish who will say the same.

At this and every Mass, Jesus takes wheat – that is, bread – 
and turns it into himself.
What happened once on the Cross, for us, 
Jesus extends through time, through the Mass.
Every day, we bring new bread and wine, and through the priest,
Jesus himself says, “This is my Body.”

Yet there’s another wheat, another bread, 
Jesus wants above all to take in hand and say, “This is my Body.”
Do you know what that wheat is?

You and me! All of us are called to belong to his Mystical Body.
But no weeds – only the best of wheat, 
which he himself purifies and gathers and prepares. 
That’s what it means to be a Catholic;
Daily we turn our lives over to him. Patiently we return to confession. 
Jesus makes of us the best of wheat, to become part of Him.

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!