Sunday, May 31, 2020

Being our best in this pandemic (Pentecost homily)

So, what’s on our mind this Pentecost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

How to be a disciple (Sunday homily)

Let’s notice some things about the first reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Dogging the bishops and the governor

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

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

Now for nuance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's try some more likely explanations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* "too long; didn't read"