Sunday, May 09, 2021

God's messy icon (Sunday homily)

 I want to start by talking about art – like a portrait or a mosaic; 

or, to use a term I’ll come back to in a moment, an icon.

What I’m describing is more than a snapshot or reproduction.

I can take a photo of you – click, done! Pretty simple. One dimension.

But art – whether with a camera or brush or chisel or something else – 

brings discovery of hidden depths 

and reveals something always there but not seen at first glance.

This is why really beautiful and profound art can seize our attention: 

it leads us into something bottomless in meaning: we stare and stare.

So with that in mind, let me quote something Pope Francis said 

in his encyclical, Amoris Laetitia: 

“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon…

capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

This is a point Pope Saint John Paul II also made:

the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity. 

As awesome as all Creation, the stars of the universe are,

only the human being is made in the, quote, “image and likeness” of God; 

and that image and likeness is most fully revealed, 

not in a solitary human being, 

but when a man and woman are in communion; in a relationship. 

In a word, “family”; which begins with the couple, but – 

now circling back to Pope Francis’ words, 

a couple that “loves and begets life.”

Because a couple that doesn’t love, and isn’t open to life,

is not an icon at all, but the opposite: if you will, an “anti-icon” of God.

Last week I said I was going through each sacrament, so:

this week it is matrimony.

And while this Gospel isn’t focused on marriage, it sure applies:

Because when Jesus talks about love, 

he’s talking about, first, the divine love of the Trinity – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 

and this love reaching out to humanity 

and drawing us up into that divine love and life of God himself.

That’s what Jesus is saying: “as the Father loves me” – 

that’s divine love – “so I love you” – 

Jesus, coming down to our level, and catches us up into that divine love.

And then, if it’s totally clear yet, he says:

This love – human-becoming-divine love, is how we love one another.

Do you have a pet? You love your pet? 

That love is real; but try as you might, 

you can’t lift that faithful companion up to the human level.

And as real as the gap is between us and our pets, 

it’s nothing compared to the infinite distance between us and God.

You and I are not God’s “pets”! 

That would be a lot easier: we get fed, have fun, but no responsibility.

But that’s not God’s plan for us:

you and I are to be lifted up into the full reality of God’s own life.

We don’t have to understand what that means;

only take Jesus at his word that he has nothing less than that for us.

So we come back to the family.

Human beings made in God’s image:

we’re a receptacle, if you will, waiting for the Holy Spirit, 

to bring us all the way into that fullness of life.

And the icon that God painted is the family: father, mother, children.

That’s the lovely account; but we know the less-beautiful reality:

family life isn’t idyllic; 

couples do not endlessly gaze dewy-eyed at each other!

So how can married life be that icon?

And that’s the transformation that grace brings.

Grace is God’s life, poured into our lives, to make us like God;

and don’t be fooled by the pretty language:

grace is messy and painful and sloooow!

So if you find your own, personal journey of grace frustrating?

Fear not! That’s just it works. and the same with family, only moreso.

The struggles – of couples to stay in love, to deepen their love, 

and of parents, trying to be generous in welcoming children – is real.

Holy Matrimony is the messiest of sacraments!

There are so many possible points here, but time won’t allow it.

But first, however challenging, how can this icon of divine love – 

which a couple is – not be about life? So: it’s man and woman. Period.

And, how can that icon not be open to life? 

We use this euphemism, we call it “protection,” right?

Protection from what? From LIFE. 

Another point: isn’t it obvious that 

married couples can’t just coast through,

and – this is hard to say – must not harden their hearts to each other.

God’s destination is indeed beautiful, 

but we all know what ugliness can happen along the way.

And the message here is not – I repeat, IS NOT – 

that one spouse is obliged simply to put up with ugliness and cruelty.

Sometimes things get broken; and we don’t know how to fix them: because we aren’t God. 

That brings us to the Cross. Thank God for the Cross!

The Cross is for all those people 

who have messes that are, let’s say, “un-clean-up-able”;

whose wreckage seems unsalvageable:

because on the Cross, Jesus’ wounds aren’t “fixed,” right? He dies!

They kill him and that seems to be the end. Defeated. Done. Final.

No! He dies but rises again. And notice: he still has his wounds!

So I confess I do not know how some family struggles get healed.

But here’s what you and I both know is true: the Cross is our hope!

In the words of St. Francis, “in dying we are born to eternal life!”

And it is the very messiness of the sacrament of marriage and family that this truth is revealed.

Each of us enters life in a family – and it’s messy;

from the very first moment, and all the way through: messy!

But God chose this reality as the icon that manifest 

how his Divine Love enters and overcomes and transforms.

Thank you mothers; thank you couples, for being the icon of hope!

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Jesus with us is the ultimate healing (Sunday homily)

 You may not have noticed, but every Sunday since Easter, 

we’ve looked at a different sacrament. 

Baptism on Easter; Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday. 

The Holy Eucharist a week later, 

when our second graders made their First Communion. 

Last Sunday, Deacon Ethan Hoying 

gave an outstanding homily on Holy Orders. 

And as he explained, bringing the sacraments to God’s People 

is what bishops, priests and deacons are meant to do, 

because the reason men become priests and deacons 

is to get people to heaven; 

and the sacraments are God’s toolbox for getting to heaven.

So now you’re wondering, what’s this week’s sacrament?

When I thought about this Gospel – it speaks of “pruning,” 

which sounds painful, 

and people being cut off from the life of the vine,

that made me think of what happens when we’re ill.

So as you might guess: 

I’m going to talk about the Sacrament of Anointing

Let’s talk about what it’s like to be really sick.

Until you have been there, it’s hard to appreciate 

what a blow it can be when you lose your health.

Not just that you can’t do something or that you feel bad; 

but you’re cut off from others or from your normal routine. 

In fact, you’re cut off from yourself, as you’ve known yourself.

What do people say? “I don’t feel like myself.”

Every kid knows what that’s like to spend several days in bed, 

while you know your friends are swimming 

or playing baseball or riding their bikes. 

Even two or three days of that is torture.

But, at that age, you assume you’ll get back out there sooner or later.

Later in life, at a certain point, you get laid low, and then you wonder: 

will I get back to who I was? 

Losing that sense of yourself can be devastating,

when you suddenly can’t be who you’ve always been.

You can feel as worthless as branch thrown aside to wither.

So it’s really important to hear what Jesus said and let it sink in; 

and doubly, triply important, when you’re sick or weakened by age:

“Without me you can do nothing.”

As important a gift as good health is, that isn’t what gives us value.

What makes you and me count is that Jesus chose us;

Jesus came for us; Jesus died for us; 

Jesus wants you and me to be part of him, now and forever!

The Sacrament of Anointing is meant for those 

who are facing serious illness, serious threats to their life.

Nowhere does the Church say you must wait until your final breaths; 

but that’s often how people think of this sacrament.

That’s how the movies depict it – 

because a priest will give the sacrament of anointing 

even right at the end. Why?

Because this sacrament is intended for healing.

Physical healing is possible – I’ve seen it happen.

So precisely when things are desperate, 

of course we’ll pray for a miracle. That’s what Christians do. 

So one takeaway here, for everyone; please remember this:

Anyone facing a serious illness or condition can be anointed.

By “serious” I mean, a situation that is dangerous, uncertain.

You don’t have to wait and wait. Call me if you want this sacrament.

This sacrament offers healing; the most important healing 

is knowing Jesus is right there with you.

“I am the Vine,” he says: “you are the branches.”

That’s a very comforting thought, isn’t it? 

Especially when you put that together with the Cross;

Because it means he’s where we are.

You’re in trouble: he’s there; you’re sick, he’s with you.

If you’re dying – and that day lies ahead for everyone – 

You are not alone!

What does Jesus want? “Remain in me,” he tells us.

That is what our Faith is all about.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Why can't a Protestant come to Communion (Part 5)

After I posted a link on Facebook to my series of posts entitled, "Why can't a Protestant come to Communion," I got a question on Facebook about it -- the gist of which was, but didn't Jesus offer himself to everyone? So how is what we do with Holy Communion consistent with that.

So I thought I'd share, here, what my response was, edited a little and hopefully improved as a result:

Let me ask you to examine your premises. You say, "...not sharing Jesus’s body and blood with everyone at Mass [is] ... not what Jesus did... He gave Himself to all who came to Him." But is this true? Did Jesus actually give his Body and Blood to "all who came to him"? And also, how do you, in the year 2021, even know such a thing? You might say, the Bible - but there is a lot the Bible doesn't tell us, so that's not enough. Here's what we do know: that the first Christians did not do what you claim Jesus did. They absolutely did not give the Holy Eucharist to anyone whether they were baptized, whether they were Christians, or not. This we do know very well. 

The early Christians did what Catholics and Orthodox (and many Protestants) do today: admit to the Holy Eucharist those who are baptized and who are "in communion" with the Church. That's what the early Church did. Now, I ask you this: who, presumably, is likely to have a better handle on what Jesus himself wanted, and what the Apostles themselves did: those early Christians? Or you and me, 2,000 years later? I think the answer is obvious: those early Christians are far more likely to be in sync with Jesus and the Apostles, because they were there.

Now, as I said, the Bible does not present itself as answering all the questions about what Jesus said and did; on the contrary, in the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus said and did lots of things that aren't mentioned. These were shared with the Apostles but not written down. 

But let's look at what the Bible does say. Only one time for certain (but maybe 2 or 3 times) Jesus actually gave his Body and Blood to others. That was the Last Supper. And notice what it said: he gave it "to his disciples" -- who he chose carefully beforehand, and specifically invited to that meal. Those disciples had been with him up to 3 years before that event. 

So on that Scriptural record, it is simply not true to say that Jesus gave his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. Not so. He carefully chose a specific group and gathered them and then said, "Take, eat, this is my Body..." You could argue that after the Resurrection, he again shared his Body and Blood with the same group, based on the Gospels, but that can be debated. But what nowhere appears in Scripture is Jesus giving his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. The stories of the sharing of bread and fish is not a sharing to the Holy Eucharist, but a foreshadowing of it. 

Also, remember that "Last" (or really, "First") Supper was a celebration of the Passover, which Jesus remade into the "new and everlasting covenant." It's not clear to English-speakers because we use the term "Easter," but almost all the rest of the Christians in the world call it "Passover"! So it is worthwhile to go into the Bible and the traditions of the Jewish people to discover the roots of Passover. And what you will find was that once again, it wasn't just anyone and everyone who could share in the Passover; you had to be circumcised and become part of the Household of Israel. No, I'm not advocating circumcision! But I'm saying that this goes to your supposition that Jesus shared the Eucharist with everyone and anyone. That's not what the Passover was, and that's not -- from all evidence we have -- how the early Christians understood the new Passover, which we call the Mass.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 4)

Someone might ask, with great feeling, and who are you, "Father Fox, to make these rules?"

My answer: I'm nobody: I didn't make these rules. These originate from the very beginning of the Church (see earlier post). I might just as easily ask you, who are you to RE-make them?

Again, this discussion is often about how terrible "barriers" and "rules" are. Which raises the question -- or two questions (which I'd really like to ask those who sincerely object to this ancient practice of Catholics and other ancient Churches):

1) What rules should there be? Any at all?

2) And who makes them?

You don't like the Catholic Church saying you must be Catholic (Orthodox are allowed too, see Code of Canon Law 844, and there are some other, very rare exceptions) and not in mortal sin. So what should the rule be? 

(Waiting for the answer. Waiting....waiting...waiting.)

There could be a thousand different answers, but they all come down to one of two options: either absolutely anyone can receive the Eucharist...or else, there are some limitations, some person or species to whom the answer is, "Sorry, but no."

And if you think there should be some limit -- or else you believe Muslims, Hindus, atheists can all come to communion -- then why are Catholics terrible for drawing a line with one breath; but with the next, drawing the line is suddenly OK? Why is your line-drawing so much better than that of the early Church, which the Church continues (with, let us be candid, far less rigor)?

So, of course, this leads to the second question, which is, who decides these things? And the Catholic answer is, well, not you; and not me

I started simply to say that the Magisterium decides, and that's mostly-but-not-exactly true; that might imply that the bishops could do what they like; and that's certainly not true. That's why I have emphasized all along that the Church is continuing what the early Church did. If you asked Pope Francis, or any of the bishops, whether they could just decide, tomorrow, that it was time to jettison the long-standing Eucharistic discipline, they would all say, no, that's not simply up to them. It's a complicated question, because we must be faithful to the Apostolic Tradition; we hand on faithfully that which was handed on to us.

Indeed, this is precisely how Saint Paul talks about the Eucharist:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Again, forgive me for putting it baldly, but again I ask: who died and made you boss? Why do you get to set the rules? It's not a rhetorical question. If there are rules, someone must make them, right? Why shouldn't the Catholic Church make the rules for Catholic sacraments? 

Look, I am inspired to see other Christians drawn to the Eucharist, and I want you to have what you want. But we don't ever get to come to God and say, God, I want you on my terms, not yours. 

If you are coming to a Catholic Mass (wonderful! welcome!), and you find yourself wanting to receive the Eucharist, instead of short-circuiting your reflections into, oh how terrible it is that ____ (Pope Francis/"the bishops"/this priest) won't let me have communion, maybe instead ask yourself, why is it so important to me that I receive this sacrament, here? What does this mean to me? What does it mean to these folks around me? 

If you want to share in the Eucharist with Catholics, are you prepared to know exactly what the Eucharist means to Catholics? Don't you think this is a fair thing to consider? Surely you don't think of the Eucharist as a "freebie" that anyone can take? You understand this is central to the entire Catholic Faith? Have you considered that maybe you haven't yet begun to understand what "sharing the Eucharist with Catholics" even means? And if that's true...why shouldn't you wait?

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 3)

Back to the question of the headline: why can't a Protestant (or anyone else who isn't Catholic or Orthodox) come to Holy Communion? Why are Catholics so mean and elitist?

I will answer this way. Suppose you brought me a gift: a big, beautiful box. After I ooh and ahh, I open it up, and my eyes widen to see five or six objects in the box. I start pulling them out one at a time.

The first item I hand back to you. "No, I don't think so."


"I don't like that. I don't want that."

I pull out another item, and scrutinize it. "Hmm. Maybe, we'll see." I pull out another item. "No, not that either," as I hand that back also.

In the end, I keep one or two items and give the rest back to you; your smiles have turned to shock and you struggle for words as I say, "Oh, and I don't really want you, either. But these are nice!"

Now, tell me: in what world would my actions not be the height of rudeness? No one could consider this acceptable.

But understand, dear, dear Protestants: when you come to the Catholic Church, and complain that you don't get to take Holy Communion on your own terms, this is what you are doing.

The Holy Eucharist isn't a thing but a Person, a Divine Person; and we don't merely receive the Eucharistic Lord, we enter into communion with Him. And when you seek to be in communion with Jesus, He is, pardon the expression, a "package deal." Along with the gift of the Eucharist comes all the sacraments; and the Sacrifice of the Mass; and the priesthood; and the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church, and, well, the whole Catholic Church as well. And the moral teaching of the Church, which isn't easy for most of us (any of us) and we all strive to live up to it, and we go to confession as we need to.

So, you want to receive the Eucharist? WONDERFUL! Here's the whole package; no, I'm sorry, it's really rude to say you reject the rest of the package and just want the Eucharist.

Why can't a Protestant come to communion? (Part 2)

 As mentioned, I kept thinking about this question, especially after I read some of the comments on the Facebook thread.

The whole thing seemed to start with an assertion -- in a link that I did not follow -- that there was nothing Biblical about the way the Catholic Church handles Holy Communion; namely, that one must be a member of the Church and in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist. This assertion is not correct and it's based on a fallacy in any case. In one of his letters St. Paul talks about the need to discern before approaching the Eucharist; I am not going to say much about that, because so much has been said before on that passage. 

But I will point out the fallacious idea that it somehow proves something if X is or is not referred in Scripture. For one, all that really means is to say, it was mentioned in the Bible in a way that the one making that claim will recognize. So for example, many say that the Immaculate Conception (Mary conceived without original sin) isn't in the Bible; but in fact, it is. But when you start pointing that out, your interlocutor will say something like, oh well, that isn't what that passage  really means...which is moving the goal posts! And it reveals the futility of the whole "is it in the Bible" argument, because that soon becomes a question not of whether it's "in" Scripture, but rather of interpreting Scripture, and who settles those questions. 

It's not nice to be rude, but sometimes a rude question can be useful: when someone says, "show me in the Bible," the correct (if impolite) question is, "who died and made you boss?" My serious point being that so many of our Protestant brethren operate from assumptions that they aren't used to having anyone challenge, and this is one them: the assumption that everything Christians believe is supposed to be in the Bible (which we can refer to as Sola Scriptura). That assumes our Faith begins with the Bible, when in fact, our Faith begins with God's revelation to people, some of which was written down. The Bible is not the source of our Faith; but it certainly is an essential witness to it.

By the way, it was interesting to see another way this appeal to Scripture broke down in that thread: once someone pointed out what St. Paul said about who can receive Holy Communion, someone came back with, oh that's Paul but what about Jesus? Pitting the Apostles against Jesus -- as if the latter is the only one we can trust -- is in every way incoherent. You and I know next to nothing about Jesus apart from the Apostles. They are how you and I know about him. So if we must distrust them...then we have nothing. And who was it who set it up that way? Jesus. He chose not to write his own memoirs, or for that matter, tell anyone to do so (at least, as far as the Bible tells us!). He simply spent a lot of time with them, and entrusted his entire enterprise to them. Either we trust them or we don't; and if we don't, I don't know what is left of Christianity.

Sola Scriptura is not authentic Christianity and it isn't even biblical. So while there are times I might be willing to respond to a question premised on it, it's fair to point out the falsity of the premise and that's what I'm doing here. Why should what the first Christians did with the Holy Eucharist -- and which Catholic and Orthodox still practice -- be condemned because it doesn't measure up to a doctrine invented in service of the polemics needed to justify breaking the unity of the Church in the 1500s? 

It is quite understandable that few Christians of any stripe know this. Nevertheless, a little history is important. 

Martin Luther and the others who rose up around the same time were all arguing for something radical: either a complete reworking of the Church, or else the breaking-apart of the Church. And the natural question to ask was, what can justify such radicalism? Luther, of course, could and did point to abuses; but one can legitimately say, fine, but you're going much further. And Luther himself was put on the spot and asked, would he accept the judgment of an ecumenical council to resolve his concerns definitively? And he refused; he said, "unless I be convinced"; he made his own judgment (and by implication, any Christian's) as final as the teaching office of the Church -- and that teaching office Scripture shows clearly was entrusted to the Apostles, led by Peter, and to their successors. In order for Luther (and others) to justify their drastic action, they had to magnify the crisis they purported to solve; suddenly, it wasn't about modest problems or changes, but in fact, the entirety of Christian doctrine and worship was riddled with error and corruption. You don't justify a revolution with only peripheral problems. And so the result of that revolution was a re-invention of Christianity in many ways.

Fast-forward from the 1500s to now, and there are quite a lot of Christians -- sincere and admirably devoted to Jesus -- whose understanding of the Faith is riddled with lots of presuppositions that never get challenged, like sola scriptura and open communion, and it comes as a real shock to them to be told that what they imagine as authentic Christian beliefs are nothing of the sort.

So, I'll just throw down the gauntlet here as follows:

When the Catholic Church says that one must be "in communion" with the Catholic Church, and in a state of grace ("in communion" for our purposes here meaning, you belong to the Catholic Church), in order to partake of the Holy Eucharist, she is simply continuing what was the practice of Christians from virtually the beginning. 

How do I know? I point to the history of all the ancient churches, including the Orthodox and other ancient churches, and I point to copious ancient writings, and all the liturgical sources we have; anyone who wants to read this can keep him/herself very busy. The ancient practice was, if anything, even more severe: the "Mystery" of the Eucharist was so precious that non believers were dismissed at a certain point, including those preparing to be baptized, and not allowed even to be present! We have many ancient Easter homilies discussing this, and explaining the mysteries to the neophytes, who are able to observe them only after they are baptized and confirmed.

So one perfectly reasonable response to someone who says, why can't non-Catholics come to Holy Communion is to ask, why do you think the practice of Christians at the beginning and from the beginning should be overthrown? (Rude version: "who died and made you boss?") Of course, they will likely not know, or be ready to believe, that this was the early and continuous practice; but you can do as I have done here and say, "it's all there -- go do some reading." On the sidebar is a link to Catholic Answers, and this is their specialty: curating lots of writings from the early Church on these various subjects. You could go to their website as a start.

Why can't a Protestant come to Holy Communion (part 1)

After questions came to me, prompted by a debate that erupted somewhere else on Facebook -- having to do with why we Catholics are so mean and selfish about Holy Communion -- I initially posted what is below (i.e., on April 20). Then, after I actually read some of the comments on another Facebook thread, I gave the matter some additional thought; and the fruits of that will follow this post...

Someone asked me recently, why do you have to be in union with the Church and not in mortal sin, in order to receive the Holy Eucharist?

For the same reason you have to be married, and not have some grave issue unresolved between you and your spouse, in order to have marital relations. Or do you think it's OK to have sexual relations without a true commitment? 

Jesus is our spouse: if you aren't committed to him in his Body, the Church, why do you expect to have the intimacy of sharing his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Imagine approaching a person of the opposite sex and saying, I want to have marital relations with you -- but I do not want to be married to you; because while I like this and that about you, these other things about you? I reject those! Do you think that would work? Do you think it should be acceptable to do that?

So why is it acceptable to approach Jesus and say, yes, I want to have the intimate union of the Eucharist with You, but I do not want to be committed to you! And while I like this and that about You, Jesus, I don't like these things you teach and ask me to observe. I prefer a pick-and-choose approach, how is that, Jesus?

So it's like this: in order to take part in the Holy Eucharist, one must be baptized and believe what the Catholic Church believes. In some rare cases, this can include non-Catholics, but generally not. It includes Orthodox, because in the judgment of the bishops, the issues separating Orthodox and Catholic are minor enough. But many other Christians -- who love Jesus sincerely -- nevertheless have profound differences with the Catholic Faith; including not knowing or believing that the Mass truly is a Sacrifice, that God's grace works through the sacraments, and that the Eucharist really is Jesus' Body and Blood. 

But anyone who wants to is, indeed, welcome to receive the Eucharist! But first things first: believe and be baptized -- or if baptized -- be reconciled with the Church, which is Jesus' Mystical Body. Don't try to be with the spouse before you are married!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Resurrection & the Eucharist (Sunday homily)

 The title of my homily is, “The Resurrection and the Eucharist.”

It’s all bound up together.

Let’s start with the Resurrection. 

To be totally clear, that means Jesus really died,

and his body came back to life. That is what we believe.

Saint Paul says elsewhere in Scripture,

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is worthless.

There is no Christian Faith if this did not actually happen.

Notice also, Jesus says that he has the same “flesh and bones” 

that each of us has. He eats food in front of them so they can realize: 

he’s still human, just as they had known him before.

Now, it is true that after Jesus came back from the grave, 

his body had qualities that you and I don’t have. 

He would appear and disappear for example.

You can explain this by saying, “He’s God,” and that’s true.

But what’s really, really important to pay attention to is this:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

Let me say that again so it sinks in:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

To put it another way: everything Jesus has, we too will have!

You and I will rise from the dead.

We will have our bodies back – new and improve – forever!

No more eyeglasses, no more pills, never again to say, “I’m too old!”

This not only tells us what to look forward to,

it teaches us that our bodies matter right now.

A lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, 

make the mistake of thinking, 

their bodies don’t matter, only their feelings matter.

This feeds so much of the confusion right now,

about male, female, identity, marriage.

But you and I aren’t only made up of feelings:

my body, your body is part-and-parcel of who each of us is.

Of course we wish we could escape our body:

if only I could eat whatever I want?

If only I could stay up late, and not be exhausted the next day.

*(Look at this whole difficulty of gender confusion –

which is a difficult trial for those involved.

But it’s the same idea: the body doesn’t matter, only feelings matter.

(The sad thing is, people are discovering very painfully 

that this is not true.

This doesn’t get reported widely:

So many folks who experience this interior conflict 

will go on and take powerful drugs and have surgery, 

all in order to become the sex their feelings say they really are.

(But it doesn’t work. They remain unhappy, 

or are even more sad and conflicted.)

This is a hard lesson to learn: 

you and I really can’t escape our bodies and ourselves,

and all the challenges and limitations involved.

Every single person experiences some sort of conflict:

my body won’t do what I want; I wish I looked like him, like her. 

I wish I could be young again.

There is no going sideways, there is no going back; 

only forward into the redemption that God has in store for each of us.

There’s something deeper at work here.

All human beings experience this fundamental drive to rise higher,

to become more than we are.

Why is this? Because God made us for eternity and for life with him!

But when people turn away from God, 

they seek that “more” in counterfeit ways that will all fail.

Whether it’s politics, or technology, or pleasure or “self-fulfillment,”

or whatever ways we try to “reinvent” ourselves, 

without Jesus Christ at the center, all these things will fail.

Jesus is the model: he shows himself to us, saying:

this is who you really are, and who you can be!

And he shows us his wounds: you and I have wounds, he understands!

We don’t have to be ashamed of them. Suffering can be redeemed!

And then he says, “you are witnesses of these things.”

One of the powerful ways you and I show others 

that Jesus is real and alive and powerful

is when we show our wounds and how Jesus heals them.

Like Jesus’, our hurts don’t always go away;

they are part of us, but they don’t control us.

Do not be surprised or discouraged 

when you and I pay a price for our witness to Jesus. 

Very rapidly now, that price is going to grow much higher.

The Apostles, the martyrs through the ages, all faced the same.

Why should we expect anything different?

Did I forget to talk about the Holy Eucharist?

Not really. I’ve been talking about the body: Jesus’ body and our body.

What is the Eucharist? Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity;

and what happens when you and I receive Jesus’ Body?

He changes us – our body, our soul – into him! 

Who Jesus is, what we see in Jesus, is what you and I will become: 

the Eucharist will do that to us!

A lot of people think of Holy Communion only as an “it”; 

but we know the truth: the Eucharist is a “who”! Jesus!

When the disciples saw Jesus on that first Easter,

They were overwhelmed. So are we! 

The reality of what happens here is just too big for us to grasp. 

But Jesus says, “Be not afraid!”

Is this only a happy story; or is this the reality that defines all reality? 

Because if Jesus is real – really risen from the dead, and really here, 

his real Body and Blood, right here, for us –

then ours a faith worth giving everything for, even our lives!

In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we receive his Resurrection life, 

his resurrection strength. 

He gives us courage to say, Jesus is real! Jesus is alive!

* Some passages are in parentheses because I'll be giving this homily at the First Communion Mass, and I may leave these sections out. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Doorway to Heaven (Divine Mercy Sunday homily)

 All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 

Now we are at the empty tomb.

The next step on our journey? Heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.

Resurrection -- Easter -- the seven sacraments: 

Christ went through all that he went through, 

because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 

says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, 

and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 

then we “live forever with Christ,” 

and we are “like God for ever, for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 

it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” 

with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, 

“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 

of the deepest human longings, 

the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).

But the key idea is that 

“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 

So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 

Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 

And ask yourself: is that what you want?

Do you want to be with him?

Know this: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.

The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.

If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 

if you wonder if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

Still: you and I have to choose this. 

And that choice we make today – and every day.

We don’t just wander our way to Heaven.

Heaven is a choice.

More than that: heaven isn’t only after death; heaven starts here.

This is what the first reading describes:

God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 

then surely the opposite is true: 

that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

He knew he had done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.

But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.

If Judas went to hell – as I fear he did – 

His hell started for him long before he got there. 

Sadly, a lot of people are in a similar place:

They have decided they cannot change, 

they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.

It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 

The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.

And you get to the point where it doesn’t make you even a little happy;

but you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”

That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I’ve stopped trying.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.

Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 

Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.

That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 

Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 

To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

But, what if I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 

I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again.

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:

“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

Of course, a lot of people get frustrated because,

even after you come from confession, you struggle with the same sins.

Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.

But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.

It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 

Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 

precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. 

No matter what you think, if you keep coming to confession, 

You will change. It will happen. 

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.

He will make you a saint!

But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;

But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Sacraments during Covid

This article caught my eye this morning and got me thinking back over the past year. A year ago we were in the midst of the Covid Crisis: public Masses were still forbidden around here, and for funerals, I was obliged to limit attendance to ten people, which was excruciating for the mourners. I recall one funeral when the doors of church were standing open, and in laws and grandchildren of the deceased were standing at the doors.

At the time, I was adamant that I would visit anyone, under any circumstances, to bring any sacrament. It was simply unthinkable to me -- then and now -- that anyone needing the anointing of the sick, confession, or the Holy Eucharist would be denied them. Several times I had to push and push to gain access to hospital rooms; one senior citizen facility was very accommodating. I don't judge; everyone involved was trying to keep people safe. But it was frustrating in the hospitals, because in each case, the patient had Covid and I did not; it was I who was taking the risk! As it happened, with God's grace, I was able to talk my way in each time, and I wore whatever gear they asked me to.

Maybe I was just too stupid, but I was never concerned about my own safety. Maybe I underestimated the risk to myself; I am overweight, so who knows, Covid might be the end of me if I were to get it (if I haven't; for all I know I did have it unawares, as some people report). But it just seemed to me then -- and now -- that this is what I signed up for; and really, this is a pretty good way for a priest to exit this life: "he died because he was visiting the sick." I don't know what death awaits me, but something does -- what is more certain? This might as well be the way I go. And I'm not saying I didn't take precautions; I am simply explaining why I didn't feel any particular fear about Covid.

And, I might add, for the most part, there wasn't any great difficulty. Confession is absolutely no problem; there need be no physical contact, I only need to be present to the penitent (no you can't go to confession over the phone or the Internet). And both the anointing and Holy Communion can be given while wearing masks and gloves. Yes, there is some risk, but let's not overstate things. And I ask once again: you're going to die at some point, what sort of death do you want? What sort of life do you want? Like Richard Blaine, "I'm no good at being noble, but"...

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Christ or Nothing (Easter homily)

 If you are over the age of 40, you may not realize 

just how much the world you see around you 

is not the world those under 20 experience.

I know what you are thinking: but it’s the same world! It is indeed.

However: what is different for a growing number of people, 

especially those who are younger, 

is that more and more people are coming to distrust 

the world around them. 

To doubt more deeply what seems to be real. 

To give up on thinking the world can make sense.

In the 1960s, holding up two fingers like this was “the peace sign.”

In the 1980s, a lot of people had tee shirts 

with a big smiley face that said, “Have a nice day.”

More recently it is the “Coexist” bumper sticker, 

with lots of religious symbols side-by-side.

But I think the symbolic gesture 

that best defines the times ahead is the shrug,

which means, who knows, and who cares?

It’s the exact same sentiment of Pontius Pilate,

when Jesus stood before him, said, “What is truth?”

So if you’re in your 20s or younger, I want to talk to you.

What do people say: “Everyone has his own truth”?

This is the safe thing to say.

But if there are eight billion different “truths” in the world,

For each human soul, then there is no solid truth at all;

And that is a dark world indeed – closed off from hope.

And I ask you: is that really the world you live in?

When you turn the key, why do you assume the car will start?

If you let go of a book, why do you expect it will fall?

And the answer is simple: Truth Exists!

There are those – and they are everywhere –

who seek to confuse us: 

who tell us that male and female aren’t real,

and to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is oppression,

who want to convince you that there is no place to soar,

no foundations to discover beneath us.

They tell us, all that matters are our own desires – 

which we satisfy for a time, and then we are gone.

The meaning of what we do here tonight is this:

You and I will not be seduced, silenced, or defeated:

God is real; this is his world, and you and I belong to Him!

No matter what may discourage you: think of the Cross.

Consider the humiliation of the Son of God, compared with yours?

How triumphant his executioners seemed!

How hopeless his cause must have seemed – no one would listen!

Now, of course, there is a whisper, you can hear it, admit it:

The voice says, “But it’s all fantasy: it’s all made up!”

Really? And why would the Apostles make up this story?

More to the point: why would each of them, one by one, 

face a terrible death for a lie they, themselves, invented?

The choice you and I face is not – as many claim – 

between a God who oppresses us, 

and setting ourselves free to be anything we want.

It might seem so at first; but it is a fraud! 

If there is no Savior, no Truth, no God that exists apart from me,

then all I have is “my truth,” which is no more solid than I am!

And I am locked in the prison of myself, and there is no key.

But thanks be to God that though they tried to seal Jesus in the tomb, they could not! 

He has risen from the dead!

Jesus lives! He is real! 

And he gives each of us a task – not an easy one, 

it was never easy – but it is important: it’s to share in his mission of saving souls.

Nothing is more important!

Tonight we gather in darkness, but we each had a light;

I don’t mean the candles: I mean the light of our own faith, 

Which may not seem like much, but it is ours, 

and we can let it fade; or let the Holy Spirit keep it burning,

and when fed by God’s Fire, nothing can put it out!

Tonight, _________ is going to be baptized.

You don’t have a lit candle yet, because that it is in baptism

That the Light of Christ is given to you for the first time.

And before you can be baptized, you make a choice.

I’ll ask you some questions in a moment, in the back,

But I’ll explain those questions right now:

Do you choose the darkness that has no meaning, 

with Satan as the king of that realm? 

Or do you choose Jesus Christ, who gives you light, who is the Light, 

and who – beginning in baptism and with all the sacraments,

all the way till heaven, is going to turn You into his Light?

To be a saint is to be made Light, a sharer in all Jesus is?

The rest of us have this moment to remember our baptism, 

and whether we made the most of Lent, 

or else we just wandered in here, today:

What do we choose?

Xave, I want to thank you for giving each of us a good example.

And I want to invite you sometime to make a trip down to Piqua, 

and visit St. Boniface Church there. 

To the right side of the altar, you’ll see a picture of a boy, 

a little older than you, but a lot like you.

He was from Mexico and his name was Jose Sanchez.

And like you’re doing tonight, he chose to follow Jesus Christ.

Only you should know that he paid a huge price for his faith.

They took his life; but he knew they really couldn’t,

Because the Light of Christ in him, no one can take away!

And his last words before entering heaven were, “Viva Christo Rey!”

Christ the King LIVES!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

'You are there' (Holy Thursday homily)

 A few years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,

And I had the awesome privilege of walking the streets of Jerusalem 

along the real, original Way of the Cross;

And I was able to be at the place of the Last Supper, 

and the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and the empty tomb.

I was with other priests, and we had Mass – at Calvary! Right there!

Now, because it is God’s work and not merely a human work,

The Mass is the Mass is the Mass, wherever and whenever.

Every single Mass brings us to Calvary – every single one.

Nevertheless, when you and I come to this evening, this time of year, 

if we realize what we’re doing, there is something electric about it.

All of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 

We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 

so that we, like the Apostles, 

can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 

instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 

No one else was present.

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.

God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 

God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 

it helps to recall what happens when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 

but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 

how the place of worship is to be arranged,

how the altar is to be constructed, 

and how the sacrifices are to be offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 

to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 

“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.

Think about that in relation to the Last Supper – and the Mass:

“They saw God and they ate and drank.”

Did you ever wonder why the altar is traditionally elevated?

As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 

on your behalf – I will address our 

“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.

And when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining host of angels adoring Almighty God!

The same angels who saw Calvary happen with amazement.

When some of us were kids, there was a TV show, 

“You are there,” and it took you back to some moment in the past.

But this is way beyond any TV show.

You and I, brothers and sisters, we are there!

At Calvary, and also, in heaven – all at once.

So before offering the sacrifice, the priest acknowledges 

the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.

Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 

and then forward, toward Christ. 

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –

 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.

It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 

go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 

That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 

On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.

In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings

“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.

And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 

face the same way, 

is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.

But the next day, on the Cross, 

he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 

His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 

had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 

to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

But then Jesus took up, not the flesh of the lamb,

But rather, the bread and the wine, and said:

This is my Body, given for you, this is my Blood, 

of the new and eternal covenant – eat and drink!

This was new. No one had ever done that before.

Then on Calvary, on the Cross, he completes the sacrifice.

He takes a last sip of wine, offered on a sponge and says, “

It is finished.”

And after the Resurrection, he showed himself alive,

that’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

We do this sacrifice, as he commanded, in memory of Him.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.

While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.

Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.

This is a Sacrifice: Christ offered himself to the Father.

The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

Also, the separation of body and blood – recalls his death.

When the priest later puts a part of the Sacred Host into the chalice,

That signifies Christ’s Body and Blood being “together” – 

pointing to his Resurrection.

There’s one more detail worth reflecting on.

When this happens, the priest sings, “Mystery of Faith.”

The origin of this part of the prayer is unclear, but – 

It’s kind of like a big, flashing sign that says,

“This, this – right here, this! This is the moment!

This is the mystery; this is pulsing heart of the whole thing!”

After this the priest begs the Father 

to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”

Of course the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 

and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 

Everything in the Old Testament led to this.

This moment – I mean, tonight; and I mean, the Mass; 

and, the moment when Jesus once offered himself;

and, that moment is made present for us here at this Mass –

This moment is the pivot point of all history.

There are so many people who long to be here, but cannot;

Many watch over the Internet.

How sad that there are others who don’t realize what the Mass is.

Tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.

We are there at the Cross.

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Make the most of Holy Week (Palm Sunday homily)

 Listening to the Gospel we heard--the heart of our Faith --

Makes me fall silent. Maybe you, too.

That’s why we do this every single year.

If you’ve come this far in Lent, 

it maybe you feel you missed the boat.

You can still make Holy Week your Lent.

If you ever said, I wish I knew my Faith better, 

may I suggest that taking time during Holy Week, 

to come on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil,

will do a lot to help you go deeper into our Faith:

Because this week is the heart of our Faith.

If you are worried about a crowd, Holy Thursday, 

Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, plus two Easter Day Masses 

will be livestreamed on the Internet.

If you wish you’d gone to confession—it’s not too late. 

I’ll hear confessions Tuesday, Wednesday, 

Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

Come Thursday evening; as usual, church will be open all night.

Pray with him that night before his agony.

Keep watch with him in the Garden.

Come Friday to pray at the Cross. 

Come to the Vigil Saturday night 

when the Light of Christ conquered the darkness.

This is his week; it’s our week.

It’s about what we did to the Lord; 

even more, what he did for us.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Deathly 'life' or real life? (Sunday homily)

 One of the striking things you surely noticed 

coming into church this morning is that the statues are all covered. 

You may wonder why.

It’s part of the fasting of Lent. 

We don’t just fast from food; there are no flowers on the altar;

the music is simpler. As we go along, we leave more and more behind.

It’s also a kind of dying. 

Little by little, shedding more and more, 

until we are alone, as it were, with Jesus, in his suffering and dying. 

Why do we talk about death like this? 

Why do we keep an image of Jesus, dying on the cross, in front of us? 

Why do we Christians do this?

Let’s remember that death came into the world 

because of human rebellion against God.

That rebellion, however, doesn’t mean living without God; 

it means replacing the God who actually made us,

with the god of my own will, my own desires, making myself god. 

By the way, you know how so many people like to say things like,

believe what you want, God can be anything, it’s all good?

God is whoever you want him to be – that’s the sentiment, right?

The trouble with this idea is that

it means not a world centered on one God,

but a world of seven billion or so gods – one for each of us;

and what do you think that world looks like?

That’s a world of greed, injustice, murder and indifference. 

And that kind of so-called “living” – Jesus came to tell us – 

is a shadow experience of life; a kind of “deathly” living.

Whereas Jesus came to give us true life; the fullness of life.

And to have that fullness of life, 

you and I must die to what this world thinks is life. 

This is where God’s mercy is at work.

As you and I get a little older, our eyes aren’t so good, 

our hearing fades, our body doesn’t do all it used to…

this experience has a way of humbling us, and teaching us: 

you really aren’t God, you know that? 

And if we listen, and accept the lesson, we grow wise. 

And we are reminded: this life isn’t my destination; 

I’m on the way to something bigger and better. 

It is in letting go of this world that we gain the world to come.

This might be a good exercise for each of us: 

to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask the question: 

“Who is God?” And then tell ourselves: “Not you.”

Next week is Palm Sunday and then Holy Week:

if the Cross is the most important thing that ever happened, 

then Holy Week recalls the most important week in history.

We’ll have all our normal activities this year!

Make the most of it.

If you need to go to confession, but have been procrastinating, 

there are plenty of opportunities over the next two weeks. 

During Holy Week there will be many extra hours for confession. 

Do I live for me, for here, for this? Or do I want to live forever?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

For America, for you and me, there is no remedy but Jesus Christ! (Sunday homily)

 For the last ten minutes or so, realize what you heard:

God has been pleading with you, begging you:

Come to me, trust me, give your heart to me!

Because that invitation was refused so many times, 

that is why we heard in the first reading the saddest possible words: 

“there was no remedy.”

If you were listening closely, you heard reference to ignored sabbaths: 

why did that figure so prominently here?

Here is why the sabbath was so important, 

and why ignoring the sabbath was such an offense to God:

the sabbath rest was given as a sign of God’s covenant with his people.

It recalled two things: the day God completed Creation;

And the day God rescued his People from slavery to Pharaoh.

Keeping the sabbath – keeping the Lord’s Day –

serves to force you and me to hit the pause button 

from all but the most essential work, and resting.

It brings us back to a place of quiet,

where you and I tune out the noise and we are alone in silence

before God our Creator and our final hope,

and we stop and remember: I am not in charge!

I did not create myself; I cannot save myself;

everything I have, and everything I hope for, comes from God.

And if you think I’m overstating matters, 

just stop and think about the state of our country. 

Whether you look at the frightening mountains of debt being piled up, 

or the arrogance of politicians and scientists and business owners 

as they manipulate human life as a commodity;

as we do business with China and other countries,

where modern-day Pharaohs enslave millions to make our products;

or we ignore God’s design for the human family 

and say, no, we like our own designs far better!

Congress is considering a law – the so-called Equality Act –

that would enshrine disordered attractions as normal.

Lest there be any doubt about its intent, this proposed law 

specifically repeals religious liberty protections 

to make sure you and I are punished if we don’t obey and agree.

During the debate, a member of Congress said, 

this is contrary to God’s will.

Another Congressman – on the winning said – declared, and I quote:

“God’s will is no concern of this Congress.”

So I’m going to be a prophet right now:

the one thing that will destroy our country is this mindset:

To set our faces against heaven and say, our will, not his, be done!

But we didn’t get where we are all at once.

This happens gradually: as nation, or to each of us individually.

If you own a car, you figure something out my father taught me  

about the value of boring preventive maintenance; 

checking tires and changing the oil.

You can skip these things and get away with it – for a while.

But long enough, and there will be no remedy.

Of course, if it’s only about a car, not so important.

But about a relationship? A nation? Our eternal salvation?

So back to where I started: God has tried, again and again, 

to invite you and me, each and every one of us, 

into an eternal relationship.

It’s why Jesus came: to give that invitation, in person.

It’s why he spent all his time with the Apostles, 

so that they would experience that sabbath rest with him –

not merely know things about Jesus, but to KNOW HIM –

to be lit on fire by the Holy Spirit, 

so much so that left all to follow him,

and they gave all after that to spread that Fire.

And that’s why each of us is here.

That fire of faith has been passed down and now it’s yours.

But just like the folks in the first reading, it’s always possible to say, 

that’s nice, but not now. Soon. Later. Some day. Too late! 

Don’t wait to ask Jesus to bring his light into your heart.

To cast out the sins and cynicism that have slowly darkened things.

A lot of people will wait – till the very last minute – to go to confession.

I’ll be very glad to hear confessions all during Holy Week;

but let me tell you, when the lines are long, I end up rushing.

There’s a part of us that likes that: that says,

I want to get in and out of the confessional as fast as possible.

But this, too, is a kind of sabbath-rest; time not so much with me,

but with Jesus, our God, our Creator, our Savior.

This is why I encourage you to make frequent use of confession, 

because that habit, over time, changes us.

This time of Lent leading into Holy Week is also a kind of Sabbath. 

It can be all, “blah-blah, I’ve heard it all before, let’s get through it”; 

or, you and I can hit the pause button, and listen, and remember:

I am not in charge. I cannot save myself.

All that I have and all that I am comes from God.

He is my only hope. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

No more 'private' Masses at St. Peter's Basilica? Say it ain't so!

 This morning I was shocked to see this headline at the National Catholic Register (the good one):

Vatican Prohibits Priests From Celebrating Private Daily Masses At St. Peter’s Side Altars

Four times I have visited Rome, three as a priest; and of course you always want to visit St. Peter's Basilica. Most of the time, it is crowded, although the sacristans and security personnel and other standers-arounders do try to keep things reverent. Some measure of modest clothing is expected, and if things become too noisy, someone can be heard intoning, "silencio!" There is a dedicated chapel for the Holy Eucharist that is very well protected from gawkers, but if you indicate you wish to pray, a heavy curtain is pulled aside and you will find a quiet, restful place despite the milling about in the colossal nave. Sadly, more recent security needs (I am recalling from my last two trip, 3-4 and 8 years ago) have made simply entering the Basilica tremendously onerous because if terribly long lines.

On the other hand, for those prepared to rise early, you can have a wonderful experience of the Basilica -- that is, of offering and perhaps attending Mass on one of the many side altars in the church, either on the main level, or the lower level. There was no great difficulty arranging to be given some side altar -- that is, if you weren't picky -- on any given day; and you reported to the sacristy, where lots of other priests were preparing for Mass, and then a young altar server would escort you to your designated altar. As I recall, the priest carried the chalice -- veiled -- and the server carried the water and wine. You asked for a Missal and lectionary in one of several languages; English was one that was available; and someone brought that along as well. (This system prevails in Washington, D.C., at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, although there's no altar server; you and any travel companions have to manage all the set up and clean up yourself.) And there, at the altar, a priest alone or with other priests, or with a group of laypeople, could offer a quiet Mass. And as you were led to "your" altar, you could see lots of priests, with or without groups, all along the walls at other altars, and a low mutter of prayer surrounded you.

It's not exactly clear from the article whether this ban on "private Masses" applies only to those offered by a solitary priest, without anyone else, or also to those who wish to bring a group along. I'm against both changes, but the latter would be truly shocking.

Why make this change? Covid can hardly be the reason: how does a priest offering Mass all by himself  threaten public health -- as opposed to...wait for it: "concelebration"?

I have my suspicions, but since I know little, I will not ascribe motives. I will simply offer several possibilities:

- Is it because of security? This Basilica is one of the most visible and visited Christian sites in the world, and keeping things calm and safe must be a tremendous headache, all before we add the fact that the Successor of Saint Peter and the College of Cardinals frequent this church more than any other. I can imagine someone trying to trim down the coming and going...Except, they aren't saying these priests can't visit; can't come to Mass; rather, they are shunting them from these quiet, early hours to later, more crowded times. Hmm, hard to see how that helps secure the basilica, but perhaps I am missing something?

- Is it because of budget cuts? Is it because there's just too much coming and going? As I mentioned, St. Peter's gets a LOT of traffic, and I can sympathize with some in the Holy See saying, "look, we're not stopping people from visiting, but things are out of hand. And, we're running big deficits" (which is true). Could be, but I'm a little skeptical.

- Is it because of someone's liturgical notions? There is a very loud, pseudo-scholarly argument that a priest offering Mass "all by himself" is bad and should be given very little tolerance: the so-called "private Mass." That a priest ought always to offer Mass with others; hence concelebration ought to be favored over a priest offering Mass "privately." And the article suggests this indeed may be a reason for the change, if not the reason. This is why I'm frustrated the article doesn't clarify whether this ban applies to a group of priests, or to a priest accompanying a group of laity -- but my hunch is that the latter two situations are still allowed, and that will support this thesis.

It is not true that a priest is not allowed, or "not supposed to" offer Mass privately. Check me out: Canon Law says he may do so for a "just" cause, which in church-law language is not a tremendously high bar. What might these just causes be? He's sick. He's on a day of rest. He's traveling. He's visiting a place of pilgrimage. Or, how about: there's a pandemic, and public authorities and ecclesial authorities have barred celebrations of the Mass with the people? Sounds cray-cray, could happen!

What is behind this anti-"private Mass" mindset is a legitimate insight: that the Mass, the sacraments, and all the sacred actions of the Body of Christ are for God's People, and so having the Mass, and celebrating the sacraments, praying the Divine Office, and any other blessings and rituals of the Church, are public and should welcome the participation of the faithful. So, it's often that people want me to bless things: it seems better, doesn't it, that they be present when I bless them; and even if those particular people can't be there, doesn't it seem fitting that someone else be present? Sure! 

But what has happened in recent decades is that someone latches onto such admirable insights, which can be found in various documents issuing from (or after) the Second Vatican Council (ooh, you just knew this was going to come up, didn't you?), and then makes that insight a kind of liturgical North Star around which everything must be organized. 

This can become a kind of mania. Because there is a passage somewhere in Vatican II-related documents about preferring the faithful receiving the Eucharist from the Sacrifice offered in their presence, you have priests who think it's a sin -- and contrary to law -- to distribute the Eucharist from the tabernacle (in fact this practice is neither sinful nor contra lege); I know one such priest who would count out an exact number of hosts for each Mass, and then if he overcounted, he would -- in front of the faithful -- cram the remaining hosts into his mouth, rather than open the tabernacle and repose them there. 

So, of course it's generally preferable for a priest to offer Holy Mass with others. But back to some of the reasons a priest might offer Mass "privately." A priest is traveling, and he makes a trip around an area where there are many beautiful churches containing relics or shrines he longs to visit. His visits will spread throughout the day, naturally. He may not speak the local language; do you really think he should concelebrate in a language he knows nothing of? (Good luck persuading anyone to use Latin!) The local parish may be tremendously accommodating; but such a visit may also be disruptive. And -- to say out loud what we all know -- the observance of liturgical norms in this particular place may be rather...relaxed. 

And for that matter, for whatever reason, the visiting priest's arrival doesn't coincide with any scheduled Mass. What then? Shall he then ask the sacristan to ring up a gaggle of the faithful so that there is not inflicted on the Body of Christ, the horror of a (shudder!) "private" Mass? It doesn't happen often in a rural parish, but occasionally, I will have a priest call, or even knock on my door, asking: do you mind if I offer Mass today? And if I know -- or can establish -- that this is a priest in good standing, and there's no great difficulty, of course I let him do so. There are priests I know who will stop in periodically, so I just give them the keys, because they know where everything is and I trust them to take care of things.

Now, if you've paid attention, you've noticed me repeatedly put "private" in quotes in reference to Mass; because while there's a valid point here, that a priest is offering Mass in a less-public way than is customary, nevertheless, it remains the case that no Mass is ever actually private. No priest is ever offering Holy Mass "alone." There are always members of the Body of Christ present at all Masses -- right? And every Mass, offered anywhere, is always benefiting the entire Body of Christ. So can we just stop getting fussy about a priest who now and then wants to offer Mass very quietly, while he's on vacation, or on his day of rest?

"But what about concelebration?" I am not as much a foe of concelebration as some priests I know and respect, but they have a point that needs to heard: concelebrating Mass is not the same as being the celebrant of Mass, as can be seen very clearly if you take a good, hard look. And, whatever its antecedents in other branches of the Catholic Church, or in the far past of the Latin Rite, it remains true that in our Roman branch, if it existed prior to 1970 at all, it has been gone for a very, very, very long time. Such a change isn't a minor thing, and it isn't at all clear it's an entirely good change. There is something very good about a central focus at Mass -- so liturgists tell us! -- such that it's best to have but one altar; and to have but one chalice, and to have but one paten filled with bread to be consecrated. So what about having one celebrant in persona Christi capitis, as opposed to a liturgical seven-headed hydra?

Now, I think IF the concelebration is done just right...

Meaning, the added priests are vested really well, and don't mill about and get in each other's way, or act all chummy like they are at a party, but instead each and every one knows what he is supposed to do; and if they are all facing the same way -- as each other and everyone else, rather than facing the faithful and each other as if across a buffet table -- and the overall liturgy is itself conducted with dignity and decorum...

Or, if the added priest is but one, or maybe two -- as opposed to a busload...

And this happens only occasionally...

Well then, that sort of concelebration can be edifying.

But we all know that's not what happens, no matter how good the intentions of all concerned.

The reactions of the faithful -- who don't waste their time becoming learned in the arcanities of liturgists -- tell the tale. When concelebration happens, their descriptions don't reflect the expectation of one, ONE celebrant. No, the ever-observant faithful speak frankly of multiple celebrants. They know what they see. The following statement is simply true: without invalidating the Mass, or being illicit, the regular inclusion of concelebrants changes the Mass for all concerned in some significant ways. Are these changes good or bad? Wouldn't that be important to know?

So, back to St. Peter's Basilica. I don't know what's going on. I don't like this news, but it may end up being less of a change than it seems in practice -- i.e., there may soon appear more and more "exceptions" or else, a priest may be allowed to offer Mass as long as someone else is there to chaperone him. And in any case, I am extremely confident that this new restriction will not spread very successfully. You can be in a church a mile or two from the Vatican geographically, but experientially, you might as well be 10,000 miles away. Il papa may be pope down there, but ecce? Il sacristano!

Update: Father Z is on it...

Friday, March 12, 2021

Three things I cooked up this week...

 Saturday is our annual Spaghetti Dinner, the proceeds of which benefit our seminarians. Wednesday a group of intrepid volunteers helped me make the sauce. If you want the recipe, go back to the main page and type "ragu" into the search bar; you'll get several articles recounting the history of this sauce. The original recipe -- which I found on the Internet -- involved making braciole, by pounding and rolling out pieces of round steak, stuffed with Romano cheese and parsley. I did that once. Over the years, I've swapped in different meats, only to realize, two years ago, I'd lost any beef, so we added brisket; and last year, that I'd lost the extra salt, pepper, parsley and Romano cheese that was originally in the sauce. So after last year, I promised this would be the best yet -- because I'd get all that back in the sauce. Finally, we did it! And I can tell you, it is my best sauce. Carry outs only at St. Remy Hall, 5-7 pm, this Saturday, March 13.

That involved a lot of chopping -- vegetables and meat -- and lots of stirring. We started around 9:30 am on Wednesday morning and I was back around 4 pm to check, and pull out the spareribs so we could remove the bones. If you make this sauce, don't be shocked by any fat. Fat is flavor! At any rate, all that made for a busy Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I had four aluminum pans I'd taken from the "Casserole Crusade" table: several times a year we ask parishioners to take these pans home -- with lids and recipes -- and make dishes we can take to nearby shelters and soup kitchens. Everyone knows I take four, that's my challenge for others. This year I decided to make mac and cheese.

Sorry I don't have the recipe sheet that came with the pans, I threw it out in the clean up. But from memory, for each pan, 1-1/2 pounds of macaroni, 1-1/2 2 pounds of Velveeta, a can of cream of celery soup and a cup 2-1/2 cups of milk. You make the pasta according to the box, and then you mix everything together. (Updated 3/13: Sorry I misremembered the amounts!)

Of course, I was making four times as much, so lots of stuff to work with. The last time I tried this, melting the Velveeta was a huge headache; one of my crack staff suggested cutting it up and mixing it all in the hot noodles afterward, and just putting that in a low-temp oven till it's melted. Perfect!

Meanwhile, of course, you know I had to tweak this! So it turns out I didn't buy quite enough milk; so I had some heavy cream on hand, and added some of that. Also, I like when you put some breadcrumbs over the top, so I had a bag of plain, cornbread stuffing, and used that. I also added a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, some fresh pepper, and a little paprika and parsley for color. And I tasted it: good!

That would all normally be enough cooking for a week; however, I had taken some (four giant) chicken breasts out of the freezer over the weekend and not gotten around to cooking them. I was running out of week! So I fixed them in a way I often do...

First I cut up the breasts into manageable sizes; then marinated them in some kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, plus some garlic powder and just a little cayenne pepper (not too much unless you want heat). I let the chicken marinate in that for about a half-hour in the fridge; longer would have been fine if I'd gotten to it. I also got a bowl ready with about a cup or so of flour.

When I was ready to cook, I got out my big, deep skillet and put in about a half stick of butter plus a good pour of olive oil and got that warming up.  I began dredging the chicken in the flour. Not heavily, but coating the pieces pretty well. By the way: you could also use an egg wash here, if you want more coating, or even bread crumbs, but I prefer a light coating, so I just used the flour. When the fat was hot -- the skillet on a medium temp -- I started putting in my pieces of chicken. Don't crowd them! I turned the heat up a little bit, and cooked them long enough to get good color on them, but not to completely cook them. Then I removed them to a baking dish, while I got the oven going at 350 degrees. When all the chicken was cooked, I poured the pan drippings over the chicken, covered the dish, and put that in the oven for a half hour.

We had these with some frozen veggies I nuked with some butter, salt, pepper and herbs de provence. If I'd been a little sharper, I'd have cooked some pasta and tossed it with some parmesan or romano cheese. When I brought the chicken to the table, I put some parsley on it, just so it'd look nice; and I made sure to spoon out some of the drippings from the pan. This is one of my favorite meals, although I don't make it often. Back when I was a bachelor, I'd make this for company and folks would rave about it; but it isn't hard and doesn't take that long, and except for when you're sauteeing the chicken, you don't have to tend the stove too much, so you can visit better with your guests. I easily had enough chicken for six people; as it is, the seminarian and I have some leftovers.

So, I'm done cooking for a few days! The Catholic War Vets have a fish fry tonight; spaghetti Saturday; I the school kids have some sort of chicken carry out on Sunday -- I bought some tickets, now I have to remember to use them! Meanwhile, I have steaks and chops thawing in the fridge for next week. 

Sunday, March 07, 2021

It's not about rules but a relationship (Sunday homily)

 The first reading is about God’s Law: 

God’s Ten Commandments, God’s “Rules.” 

We need rules; and even if we claim not to like them, 

in fact, we really do.

Many complain that the Church imposes rules, 

but the truth is, so often ordinary Catholics come to me and ask:

“Is there a rule for this situation?” 

And if there isn’t a rule – and I say, well, 

try to apply this scripture or moral principle, 

that usually frustrates people who come back with:

“Just give me a rule!”

As I said, rules are useful.

Every family has rules:

Who does what chores, on what days; 

how late is too late to be out on a school night, and so forth.

And – to quote the late Father Michael Seger, 

who taught moral theology at the seminary in my time:

“Rules exist to protect values”:

“Thou shalt not kill” protects the value and dignity of human life.

But life is always more than rules;

and in the fullness of time, God’s Word became flesh:

Jesus came to invite each of us into a relationship with him.

To know him not only as Creator, as Judge, and as Savior – which he is –

But just as much as a brother and a friend.

So all this raises a question which I now want to put to you, 

And, to be honest, I hope to make you think deeply about:

Is your Catholic Faith mainly about following rules?

Getting to Mass on time; keeping the communion fast;

praying your regular prayers;

no meat on Fridays during Lent;

not going too far on a date, not taking God’s Name in vain;

not drinking too much on a Friday or Saturday night;

and if you do these things, get to confession before communion.

As I said: every family needs rules, and that includes God’s Family.


If your faith is mainly about keeping rules? You’re missing it!

Our Catholic Faith is mainly, crucially, about a relationship!

God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So God is – within Himself, in a way we can’t quite explain – 

a relationship.

Life is a relationship. 

There is not one person here who could be here 

without a series of relationships. 

You never have been an island all to yourself, and you never will be.

Maybe the reason God created the world this way 

was so that his invitation to a relationship with him 

would be amplified and re-echoed in everything we experience; 

to give us every advantage, to have courage to believe, first, 

that a relationship with God is possible…

And then to find it easier to follow the path he gives us 

to that relationship – so we would be successful.

Most of us are really good at figuring out the rules;

even if you can’t quite figure out the rules for your taxes,

you can always pay someone to work them out for you.

Relationships are much harder.

Remember high school? There were always girls you noticed, 

but you were scared too death to talk to them.

I remember attending my 10-year reunion and seeing some of them – 

who were married – and thinking, why didn’t I ask them out?

Far harder is doing the work to make and keep a good relationship.

Lots of people are married – happily, it would seem –

but they don’t talk very much; 

they don’t spend much time alone as a couple. 

I know because you come and tell me – 

along with the sadness and frustrations 

that come with that disconnect. 

Lots of our children need to talk to their parents: 

so many of our girls are lied to about their value;

so many of both boys and girls are looking at stuff on their phones 

they know is poison, but they don’t know how to stop.

Kids: no one in the world loves you as much as your mom and dad.

Talk to them!

Parents, you know they are scared: so you talk first!

Relationships take work but it’s worth it.

True for friends and family, most true with the God who made you,

and who came to earth precisely to die on the Cross to save you,

and who wants nothing more than to have you and me with Him forever.

Those money-changers Jesus confronted that day?

They must have been so confused, because, after all:

They were following all the rules!

Don’t just follow the rules: know God!

Talk to him, discover him; make friends!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The most important day of your life (Sunday homily)

 What do you think was the most important day of your life?

Was it the day you were born? 

Or maybe when you graduated from school? 

Or when you met your sweetheart? Or when you were married?

Or do you have four or five most important days: 

when each of your children were born?

Was mine when I was ordained as a priest?

No: as very special as all those are, 

none of those was the most important day of your life. 

The most important day of your life – and mine – 

was the day we were baptized;

because that is when you were given eternal life!

You and I were joined to the life of the Holy Trinity

And we became citizens of heaven.

That changes everything.

What does that have to do with the flood in the first reading?

The flood washes away everything that is hostile to the life of God; 

everything that separates and distracts us from God.

And that is what baptism does, too.

So how do we get from a flood to the desert?

When you wash away everything that commands our attention, 

that seems urgent but actually isn’t as important as we think; 

when all that is gone, what’s left? 

The confrontation between good and evil that we see in the Gospel.

But what’s important is that it is Jesus facing the devil. 

He’s squaring off in the battle each of us faces.

The point is, he’s facing our enemy – on our behalf.

When humanity faced the devil the first time, what happened?

We lost. Our hope was destroyed.

So, as St. John Henry Newman said, 

“A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.”

You and I still face our ancient foe, day by day;

but we need not do so alone. Jesus wades into battle on our behalf!

That’s what Good Friday and the Cross are about. 

Jesus had a choice; he said, let the cup pass, 

but if not, thy will be done! 

Once again, that is what baptism is about:

you and I being joined to Jesus: we take up his cross;

And he takes up the battle on our behalf.

That’s why we recall our own baptism today, 

and why we will do that in a solemn way in six weeks on Easter.

Someone once told me, always have an action item in a homily.

So here it is: you have six weeks of Lent 

to discover the power and reality of your own baptism – 

the most important day of your life.

Go to confession: return to the purity of your baptism.

Renew the vows made for you; make them for yourself.

On the day of your baptism, you were set on the path toward heaven. 

It’s always a good idea to recheck your heavenly GPS

And make sure you know where you are headed.