Sunday, March 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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

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

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

Here's the passage with key ideas bolded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a mercy! Howso?

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

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

Consider this:

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

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

Sunday, March 22, 2020

We will WIN against this virus!

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

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

Here is what I think:

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

So: be calm. Keep some perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- "United 93"

- "For Greater Glory"

- "The Scarlet and the Black"

- "A Man for All Seasons"

- "A Beautiful Mind"

- "Remember the Titans"

- "Hoosiers"

- "Stand and Deliver"

-"Schindler's List"

- "Midway"

- "Dunkirk"

- "Darkest Hour"

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

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

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

Can you really see? (Sunday homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

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

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Be not afraid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let me offer some more positive thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We'll get through this.

Whoops! Time to go hear confessions!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

What is justification? (Sunday homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 08, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

What we're doing about germs at St. Remy

Appearing in the upcoming parish bulletin:

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

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

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

What about communion in the hand or on the tongue? 

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.

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

Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole thing is, finally, sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which seems more realistic?

Sunday, March 01, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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