Sunday, June 28, 2020

St. Remy Holy Mass 7:30am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

St. Remy Holy Mass 7:00am

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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

How to be faithful, not fearful (Sunday homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lessons from Justice Gorsuch's Bostock betrayal

Our hero (one of)

Not our hero. And not our savior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Bearing witness along the way (Corpus Christi homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Eucharist and the Trinity (Sunday homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Bad priests, bad cops

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

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

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

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

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

Both police officers and priests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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