Sunday, July 25, 2021

Union with Jesus puts you & me on the altar of sacrifice (Sunday homily)

 Let’s drill in on today’s Gospel. 

Specifically, why did Jesus ask the Apostles to provide food?

First, of course, Philip says, it’s impossible.

Next, Andrew finds a boy with his own lunch – a meager offering.

And this, I think, is the key: Jesus wanted something offered.

As you know, I’m doing a series of homilies 

about the Mass and the Eucharist. 

Last week the focus was on how full and intense 

is the unity with Christ that comes in Holy Communion. 

Holy Communion is union.

This Sunday, my focus is on sacrifice.

For there to be a sacrifice, something must be brought and offered.

In the Old Testament, it was lambs, bulls, or fruit of the harvest.  

When it comes to the New Testament sacrifice, 

the essential offering is Jesus himself, 

the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

On Calvary, on Good Friday, this is true: Jesus offers himself.

But this episode in the Gospel is looking beyond Good Friday, 

to the Holy Mass – as we call it – 

that would be offered day by day until he comes again. 

That’s why Jesus is going to talk about bread!

Bread – and wine – aren’t needed for Good Friday.

But they are needed for the Mass, which is the extension of Calvary.

And, the bread and wine – when changed by the Holy Spirit – 

are how you and I receive the flesh and blood of the Passover Lamb.

As the people who Jesus fed in today’s Gospel will say, later,

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

The answer – the only answer – is the sacrifice of the Mass,

Which the Apostles and priests after them were to offer.

So, to be clear: in this episode, the people received ordinary bread, 

which Jesus had miraculously increased in quantity.

This is not yet the Holy Eucharist, which will come after Calvary; 

but this is a foreshadowing of what would come.

Still, some might point to today’s Gospel and say, 

see, Jesus gave to everyone! That’s how Holy Communion should be!

But notice, many of the assembled people weren’t ready.

They wanted to make Jesus an earthly king;

and when he later explains that, in the Eucharist, 

they would eat his flesh and drink his blood, 

many were offended and even left him.

So let’s ask: how can it be good for people 

to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, if they don’t believe? 

And in fact, it is harmful, which is what we’ve always believed: 

to receive the Holy Eucharist without faith, or in a state of mortal sin, 

is a sacrilege and that, itself, is also a mortal sin. 

Saint Paul described it as eating and drinking “damnation” for oneself!

This is why it is so important to go to confession 

before coming to Holy Communion, 

if you are aware of having committed a mortal sin.

So let me make this point. Sometimes someone you know 

may be at Mass and choose not to go to communion. 

Please, please don’t ask any questions. 

You may think it’s helpful to ask what’s going on, 

but that’s a very private matter and it’s better to leave it alone. 

One key thing we must believe before receiving Holy Communion, 

is precisely that you and I are taking part in a real, true sacrifice.

The Mass truly and really is united to the sacrifice of Calvary; 

they are one and the same. 

And now let’s connect what we talked about last Sunday:

You and I are becoming ONE with Jesus, truly, really one.

This begins in baptism, and is the point of all the sacraments.

So when Jesus offers himself, who is also on the altar?

You are! I am!

Later in Mass the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, 

that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable…”

It is your sacrifice; and it is my sacrifice.

But not bread and wine, but rather, what they will become:

Jesus himself! Jesus, the Lamb of God!

So take this seriously: you and I must put ourselves on the altar!

Let me speak personally here.

The pope’s decision a week ago to restrict greatly 

the Traditional Latin Mass 

caused me a lot of hurt and discouragement,

as I know it did many other people. 

I’m getting so many questions and I’m sorry, 

I can’t explain the pope’s thinking, 

beyond what he, himself, has said. 

I don’t want to make surmises 

about any other motives he may have had.

But what occurred to me is that this is a share in the Cross.

Remember, the Cross is unfair; it is undeserved;

and many people find the pope’s action very unfair. Me included.

So what did Jesus do when he was treated unfairly? Say, “I quit?”

No: he offered that unfairness to the Father, 

confident he would be vindicated.

I don’t know how all this will play out, but the only answer 

is to unite ourselves more fully to Jesus on the Cross.

You and I can be confident that God will recognize 

and reward those who are obedient – like Jesus – 

even in great unfairness. Out of his Cross comes life for others, 

and we become that life for others by our own embrace of the Cross.

And remember, if we unite ourselves to Jesus in his death, 

we will be with him, all the way to heaven! That’s the plan.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Holy Communion = Union with God; that's why some can't come to Communion (Sunday homily)

 Last week we began looking at the Mass and the Holy Eucharist; 

and the lesson from last week was this: 

this is all about a bigger plan by God, and without seeing 

that bigger reality, you can’t understand the Eucharist properly.

What is that plan? It is union with God – 

and I mean that in the fullest, fullest sense. 

See, this is the whole controversy right here: 

people want to receive Holy Communion,

but that union-with-God, union-with-his-people, thing? 

Let’s keep that part vague! We can deal with that later.

But that’s the whole point; there is no other point. So you can’t skip it. 

If you or I say we have union with God; 

but we don’t unite to what Jesus says: is that real union?

You have politicians who take precisely that view:

they say, oh we love Jesus and we should be able to receive 

the Eucharist – but we believe Jesus is wrong in what he teaches!

Of course they don’t state it that baldly, but that is their position.

Jesus says, marriage is male and female. They reject that.

Jesus says “Thou shalt not kill,” but they won’t stop abortion;

They even say you and I must pay for it!

So, yes, these politicians are rejecting Jesus’ own words.

How do you take Jesus in the Eucharist while rejecting Him? 

It’s not just politicians. Lots of people want to take Holy Communion, 

but they don’t want to live the way Jesus commands.

And I am not soft-pedaling the challenge of the commandments.

But how can we be in union with Jesus, while not living as he asks?

A third example: people – who aren’t Catholic -- say, I love Jesus!

You should give me Holy Communion!

So you or I ask, well, do you believe this – 

the Sacred Host, the Precious Blood – 

actually and truly are Jesus himself? 

And these folks will get uncomfortable and say, 

what difference does it make, and can’t we skip over that?

And the answer is, the Eucharist is all about unity;

how can there be unity if we aren’t even united 

about WHO the Eucharist IS?

One more case: there are folks who say, Jesus is fine with me – 

but I don’t want to join the Church he founded.

Who would say that to Jesus’ face:

Jesus, I like your head; but the rest of your Body? No!

In all these ways, people want to take the Eucharist 

but they want to sidestep the whole “union with God” part –

Again I remind you…THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!

That’s why it’s called COMMUNION.

So, what the Church has always taught, from the very beginning, 

is that before you and I enter into any of the sacraments, 

there has to be a unity of faith – we believe the same things – 

and a unity of life – we accept and live by the same commandments;

and we do this as a community, or “communion,” called the Church.

There are those who tell you, just go to communion, 

don’t worry about what you believe, 

or about keeping God’s commandments; 

and it doesn’t matter if you belong to the Church Jesus established.

Those who say that, I have to ask: do they believe in hell?

Or do they figure nearly everyone goes to heaven, 

so what difference does it make?

In the second reading, Paul says what he always says:

this is all about the Cross. 

Jesus died to reconcile us to each other and to God. 

If we all go to heaven anyway, why did he do that?

Here are words Jesus never said:

Do what you like, it’ll all work out fine.

The reason it all matters is because this world 

is where we respond to God’s grace 

and by carrying the Cross daily, you and I become heavenly; 

or we don’t let God’s grace change us, and then we lose heaven.

Someone might ask: Am I claiming we have to be perfect

in order to come to Holy Communion? Absolutely not!

What I am saying is that you and I must unite [changed to "bend" in some Masses] our will to Jesus’ 

as best we can; opening ourselves to his grace to do the rest.

So: today’s message: Holy Communion is about union.

Union with God in all ways; union with Jesus on the Cross; 

and union with one another, which is maybe the hardest part of all!

If anyone says, I want Jesus, how do I have Jesus?

Our Catholic answer is, come and meet Jesus in our company.

We will share with you what comes from the Apostles.

Discover who he is, and discover the Church he established.

Count the cost of taking up his Cross as he himself said.

You are welcome to come with us, and be part of us. 

We will share everything with you, 

in this life, and even more, in the life to come!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Pope Francis sharply restricts the Traditional Latin Mass

 As you may know, today in Rome Pope Francis issued a new decree which expressly abrogates all prior permissions regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 liturgical books. Under his new directive, the Traditional Latin Mass can still be offered, but with what appears to be tight restrictions, subject to the permissions of bishops and, it appears, Rome.

At this time, I do not know how this affects the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Remy. As I said a few minutes ago on our Facebook page:

It is with great sadness that I learn Pope Francis has abrogated prior permissions for the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. He has mandated that priests must request permission to continue to offer the Mass according to the older form, and authorized bishops to continue to allow the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass; this morning I sent an urgent email to Archbishop Schnurr requesting permission so that we may continue to have the Traditional Latin Mass as we have done.

I am sure there are many questions and concerns; I really don't know much more than I've shared here. Archbishop Schnurr has always been very favorable toward traditional expressions of the faith, so I am confident he will respond as generously as possible. I suspect he, too, is trying to figure out the implications of this.

I ask that everyone pray for the Holy Father and for what happens now, as I think there will be a great deal of unhappiness and conflict. If you have strong feelings, I strongly urge you to think and pray before offering commentary that may be overheated.

Archbishop Schnurr is, I am sure, scrambling to figure out what permission he can give at this point: does my request for permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass need to be ratified in Rome? Meanwhile, there are Masses planned everywhere, and now everything is in suspense.

While I will greatly limit my own commentary on this for the time being, there is one point I see people making already: that all this was prompted by bad behavior on the part of those who love the Traditional Latin Mass. I think this is terribly unfair. Sure, there are bitter people who behave badly; they are everywhere. 

For the time being, I'm going to refrain from further commentary. It is forseeable that some folks will react in unhelpful ways, and I do not wish to do that myself, or goad anyone into it. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Eucharist is part of a much bigger plan (Sunday homily)

 Over the next five weeks, 

the homilies will be about the Mass and the Eucharist.

Why this topic? The readings over the next few weeks set the stage.

The other reason is because of confusion and misunderstanding 

about the Eucharist, including what receiving Holy Communion means.

Many people have this idea that you can just walk in and take it.

It doesn’t matter what you believe; it doesn’t matter how you live;

you don’t even have to be Catholic. 

This is all too big a topic for one homily, so we’ll do it over five weeks.

Let’s start with today’s readings.

In Paul’s letter, he’s laying out the biggest of big pictures: 

God’s plan for salvation. Maybe you notice Paul goes on and on!

I think he’s struggling to find the right words.

Here’s what Paul is trying to describe:

God’s whole plan – fulfilled in Jesus Christ – is “more”; always more. 

To forgive us, but also more. 

To free us from the power of sin, and more. 

Not only to live forever, but even more. To share heaven – and more!

In the shocking words of St. Augustine and others: 

“God became man so that men might become God.”

We are to be united to God, to be sharers in God’s own nature! 

How do you take this heady, mind-blowing idea, that’s way up here,

and make it concrete and real for ordinary people, for everyone?

The answer is two fold:

First you create a community of people, who share their lives together.

In that shared life, these realities aren’t just abstract, they are lived. 

That’s what the Gospels call “the Church.”

And then, in the shared life of that community, 

God makes himself present on a continual basis, 

transforming people, on the way to the Kingdom.

What does that community share?

In two weeks, we’ll hear Paul answer that: “One faith, one baptism”:

a common body of beliefs, a common way of life.

They also share leaders: the apostles and their successors.  

And they share God’s sharing of his own, divine life: the sacraments:

Now, this is where we have to acknowledge that 

Protestant beliefs take one road, and Catholic and Orthodox teaching – 

which continue what the first Christians believed – takes a different road.

Protestantism, speaking generally, emphasizes individual acts of faith.

The thing is, too much of that and every believer is on his own:

you make your own Christianity; pick-and-choose.

What the early Church emphasized was God’s grace and power

acting through people, through the Church, through the sacraments. 

Without that part, we can go wrong one of two ways. 

One way is to make it all personal: it’s just me-and-God.

The other mistake is to forget that God’s power acts here-and-now;  

then sacraments and worship become mere human rituals, 

not sources of God’s grace.

And guess what most Protestant denominations teach:

sacraments have no – repeat, NO – divine power.

There is no Mass; no Sacrifice; and Holy Communion is only symbolic.

Now, our dear Protestant fellow Christians go part-way here:

they believe in miracles and conversion; they believe in God’s grace.

Where the crucial link is broken is regarding 

how God’s power acts through the Church and the sacraments. 

For example: we believe baptism has divine power and really saves us.

A man becomes a priest and really can act with God’s own power, 

to forgive sins; as a bishop, he teaches with authority, 

and at the altar, make present what Jesus did at the Cross.

So, now let’s turn to today’s Gospel. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice 

that most of Jesus’ time is focused on the Apostles.

He is with them day and night, for about three years.

Most of what he says, he directs to them.

The Apostles are the key to his plan.

See: Christianity isn’t only or even mainly 

about beliefs that we profess; 

if so, all Jesus needed to do was give us a book.

Rather, Christianity is also about relationship

we share a common life with other believers, and in that shared life,

God makes himself present. His power acting through people.

And that is how God begins to bring about what we heard Paul describe.

Notice that Jesus empowers the Apostles 

to do everything they’ve seen him – the Son of God himself – do.

The Apostles are learning to exercise divine power!

And if you say, that’s astounding, I agree:

How do you imagine I felt the first time I offered Holy Mass?

I will tell you: I wanted to crawl under the altar!

So we’re going to talk about the Eucharist for five weeks.

Today’s lesson is this: 

You and I can’t understand the Eucharist apart from the bigger plan. 

To quote St. Paul again:

“To sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.” 

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Loving America as a faithful Catholic (Independence Day homily)

 Since the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday this year, 

part of my homily will be about the meaning of this holiday.

And since it seems like a lot of our fellow Americans 

don’t know the story of our country – 

in many cases they are being given a very distorted version of it – 

I can’t take anything for granted. 

So let’s start with the basics. 

First: to be patriotic is a virtue. 

It is right to love and honor the place of our birth, 

recognizing how much we are given.

This is not a blind love. 

Our country is not perfect, and so it is also right to help our country 

become more godly, to become a “more perfect union.” 

That said: it is wrong to treat good gifts with contempt.

Too many of our fellow Americans seem totally unaware 

of what incredible gifts we have been given 

in our birthright as Americans.

This is due in part to terrible distortions and misrepresentations.

I can only do so much in these few minutes. You can do a lot more.

One action item I strongly urge from this homily 

is for everyone here to discover our history 

and what we have to be grateful for. And to share it!

Parents and grandparents: do not take it for granted 

that everyone knows!

When you see people tearing down statues 

of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson 

and Theodore Roosevelt and others, 

and you have so many people who want to silence and “cancel” 

ideas they don’t like;

Or they try to burn down courthouses in many cities,

or they behave like fools in the U.S. Capitol,

and you have many saying they think socialism is the answer, 

then it’s painfully clear that quite a lot of people 

do not know what they should know about our country.

So: you want to do something positive and not just be unhappy?

Make sure your family knows what we all have in this country.

Today we celebrate the birth of the United States of America; 

because this was the day in 1776 that elected leaders 

from the first 13 states approved the Declaration of Independence. 

When they declared our independence from Great Britain – 

then the world’s superpower – 

it was very uncertain whether they would succeed. 

Our founding fathers pledged 

their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”  

If you have never read the Declaration of Independence, 

or it has been a while, then you should read it.

It is a statement of what our country is about; 

why we exist as a separate nation and what defines us.

Let me quote words that every American 

ought to have written in his or her heart:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 

that all men are created equal, 

that they are endowed by their Creator 

with certain unalienable Rights, 

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, 

deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

No one had ever really said it like this – all in one place.

No nation had ever dedicated itself to this vision;

and if we took these ideas for granted before, let us do so no longer,

because they are under assault everywhere, including here at home.

Part of the birthright of being American is that we are citizens: 

“We the people” have a vote. We have a voice. 

In Hong Kong, they used to be free, 

but now they are being enslaved by communist China. 

In Finland, a member of the Parliament 

referred to what the Bible says about male and female 

and she was charged with a crime.

A few days ago, an American athlete turned her back on the flag 

and complained about how oppressed she is. I don’t know her story. 

What I see is a terrible lack of gratitude, and ignorance. 

If she did that in most places, she’d find out what oppression really is. 

No matter who you are, if you live in the U.S., you won the lottery.

That is not to say you and I and others should not speak out.

There are problems. Is there racism? Yes.

Are their injustices? You bet. 

There desperately need to be changes in our cities 

and many of our public schools. 

And I can mention the prolife issue, 

the growing insanity about marriage and family: 

yes, there are things that need to change!

Getting involved, speaking out, protesting – peacefully – and organizing: 

these are the right things to do, the American things to do. 

But there’s one more layer, the deepest one of all:

You and I are Christians. 

God chose to put us here, in in this place and time.

We are here both to be citizens of this land, 

while also being citizens of God’s Kingdom. 

It is not always easy to do both, that this is our task.

The readings today are really fitting.

We hear about Ezekiel giving a message no one wanted to hear;

the exact same thing happened to our Lord Jesus in the Gospel.

St. Paul talks about the hardships and disrespect he experienced.

Many generations of Americans before us toiled and sacrificed, 

often with their lives, to make this a better country, 

truer to our founding ideas. 

If you and I have to face opposition or criticism or mockery, 

that puts us in a long line of Christian witnesses and, also, patriots.

It is right to love our country; the fullest expression of that love 

is to want the best for America and all our fellow citizens. 

So you and I celebrate so much that is good about our nation;

and we work and pray for the conversion of our country, 

asking, as the song says, “God mend thine every flaw.”

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Fatherhood shortage (Sunday homily)

 Even though next week is Father’s Day, 

I think fatherhood is the idea I want to focus on this week.

I’m going to talk about a couple of different things 

that aren’t obviously linked, but the connection really is “fatherhood.”

Let me start with the “Beacons of Light” planning process 

which the Archbishop is leading, regarding how best to provide 

for the 200-plus parishes of the Archdiocese.

First: what’s going on? The answer is that many of our parishes, 

as currently configured, are not healthy. 

If you measure things by our local situation, that may surprise you.

But we’re part of an Archdiocese that covers 19 counties,

and many places are facing a very different situation.

We talk about a shortage of priests, and that’s a real problem; 

but in many places, the bigger shortage is of people; 

and that means a shortage of volunteers and material resources.

This “Beacons of Light” project is about taking a big-picture approach

rather than dealing with it piece-meal.

As I said, this isn’t ONLY about not enough priests, 

but that is part of it; specifically, about having enough PASTORS – 

that is, priests who are in charge of parishes. 

So here’s something you may not have thought about:

Not all priests are cut out to be PASTORS. 

We have good, holy priests who are either too new, 

or else they just don’t have the skills to run a parish. 

We have 110 priests serving as pastors right now. 

But 58 of them are over 60 – that more than half!

And that means they will all be eligible to retire in the next ten years.

Of those pastors over 60, 20 of them are, in fact, over 70 – 

that means they are at or past retirement age;

even if they don’t want to retire, they may have to, at any time.

Meanwhile, we’re ordaining an average of four priests a year; 

But those new priests are not going to become pastors immediately 

and they shouldn’t! 

New pastors can do damage if they lack seasoning. 

I first became a pastor when I had been ordained only two years.  

I made some serious mistakes; it wasn’t intentional, 

and I not blaming anyone but myself, but experience matters.

Right now, today, the Archbishop has no “bench,” no back-up.

He’s brought in priests from Africa and India, 

some of whom will be returning to their native countries.

We can’t kick the can down the road any longer.

So what’s all this mean for Saint Remy?

Let’s start with the bad news.

It seems almost certain that at some point in the next ten years, 

the Archbishop will group our parish with one or two other parishes, 

and we will share two priests, but only one will be pastor. 

And if you wonder why, if there are going to be two priests, 

why not have both be pastors? 

Because that second priest will be someone fresh from the seminary,

or even an older priest, who isn’t otherwise suited to be pastor.

This has long been a possibility; I think it will finally happen.

The rest of your questions I can’t answer.

I can’t say which other parishes we will be grouped with.

The Archbishop is sorting through the situation in all 19 counties, 

and he will propose some groupings this September,

at which point we’ll all see them and be able to give input.

If you ask we’ll be “clustered,” that depends on things no can predict.

My health is good, but I can get sick and so can other priests.

Here’s what I think is good news and should reassure you.

I mentioned how in many places, parishes are emptied out.

They don’t have much happening; they lack volunteers and money;

and they are situated within miles of other parishes in the same boat.

None of that describes us.

So the kind of re-organizing that is likely to happen elsewhere 

is not reasonable to expect or fear here. 

For example, when I was in Piqua, 

we did combine two religious education programs into one, 

and combine offices. But those parishes are ½ mile apart; 

and there was a critical shortage of willing volunteers to teach CCD.

None of that applies to Russia.

I started by talking about fatherhood.

When we talk about our larger society, 

we’re facing a critical shortage of true fatherhood.

One of the things that makes our local community healthy 

is that we don’t face a plague of absent fathers.

That is directly tied to the health of this parish 

and of this northern part of our Archdiocese.

This helps explain why our area generates more vocations,

as the example of genuine fatherhood inspires more spiritual fathers.  

The readings highlight how great things 

can come from small, even discouraging, beginnings. 

The devil wants to discourage us and panic us;

Not just about changes in our parishes, but in our society as a whole.

Jesus calls us to keep calm and keep confident in his leadership,

no matter what else is happening.

This Friday, I invite all men of all ages, from 1 day old to 100 years old, 

to participate in our annual prayer walk. 

We’ll meet between 5-5:30 pm in the main parking lot.

This year we’ll car-pool out to Loramie-Washington Road,

So we’ll be glad for as many vans and big cars as possible.

As before, our walk will be all about praying for our community.

Our task as men is to guard and guide, including spiritually.

Over time, we will complete a circuit all around the parish.

We’ll have rides for those who can’t walk the route.

Then we’ll share fellowship afterward.

It’ll be hot; it’ll be tiring, and you may be tempted to think, 

what good does this do? 

All I can say is that we will be faithful and trust Jesus 

to make the seeds of faith grow in this community.

That is what you and I are called to do.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Treasuring the Gift of the Eucharist (Corpus Christi homily)

 On this Feast of Corpus Christi, 

I want to talk about some practical things, 

particularly as we try to resume what was normal 

before this last, very abnormal year.

First, I want to thank you for the way take reverence seriously, 

not only during Mass, but before and after. 

I’ve been in churches where this has been lost,

where people are visiting and talking as they would anywhere else.

Nothing wrong with visiting – but it destroys prayerfulness.

This is a good time to talk about how we receive Holy Communion. 

You know that there are two options: 

receiving on the tongue, or in the hand. 

It’s no secret that I have encouraged you to receive on the tongue; 

but during the Covid crisis, 

a lot of people were uncomfortable with that. I understand that.

So what follows isn’t meant to override that concern, 

but to talk a little about the best way to receive the Holy Eucharist, 

whether you do it in the hand, or on the tongue.

Let me say that sometimes people come to Holy Communion 

with only one hand free, often because you’re holding a child.

In those cases, I’ll whisper, “I’ll put it on your tongue.” 

And this is the reason: it really isn’t reverent 

to try to juggle the Holy Eucharist with one hand, 

particularly when you are carrying a child.

Also, if you are receiving in the hand, please lift your hands high. 

That’s both very reverent: lifting Jesus up! It’s also practical.

If you are receiving on the tongue, this is going to sound funny, but:

You really do have to put out your tongue –

I’m not a dentist, I really don’t want to go IN there!

And whichever way you receive, it’s important to remain still.

Many of our younger parishioners are kind of rushing.

Parents, maybe you can help them remember these things?

I’ve told this story before, but it’s too good not to repeat it.

Father Randall Roberts was an United States Air Force chaplain 

in Saudi Arabia where, he explains, 

“any public Christian activity is punishable by imprisonment.” 

When he was going to offer Mass for American soldiers 

who were stationed in Saudi, soldiers would spread the word.

Because of the laws against any sort of Christianity,

Father Roberts had to celebrate Mass in a “remote area”

In this case, an abandoned recreation shack 

encircled by a chain-link fence.

Now, it happens there are many millions of foreign workers 

in Saudi Arabia – and a large number of them are Christians.

One of these foreign workers walked by; 

and when he realized Mass was underway, 

he “pressed himself against the other side of the fence.”

Here’s what Father Roberts saw:

He appeared to be straining his whole body – or at least his heart – 

through the chain-link fence, like water through a filter…

The sheer ecstasy in his face from being present 

at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – though not able to move closer – 

is an image that will be indelibly etched in my heart until I die.

I wasn’t there, but now, I will never forget that image.

And I hope you won’t, either.

What a gift we’ve been given!

May God give us the gift of loving the Mass, and the Holy Eucharist, 

like that poor man, and the many millions like him, 

who are starving for what is so easy and available for us.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

C.S. Lewis, Cicadas and the Holy Trinity (Sunday homily)


Maybe you are like me: you like to read news and opinion items online.

Also, I confess that I spend more time 

surfing for such things than I really need to. 

The result – for me, and maybe for you – 

is that sometimes we get too caught up in negativity and worry.

There’s a lot of negativity out there right now, don’t you think?

Folks who are unhappy with political trends, 

disillusioned with sports teams and the entertainment media,

and disappointed in how some of our bishops handle things.

These concerns are real: I’m not dismissing them.

However: there’s a need for perspective.

The author C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, 

in which he imagines taking a trip from hell to heaven.

When he’s in hell, it seems like a vast city, miles and miles.

When he and others ride a bus up and out, 

that vast city turns out to be a tiny little speck and shadow of dirt, 

compared to the blinding brilliance of heaven. 

You’ll see the same thing in the Bible:

Humans build this great big tower in the city of Babel, 

they are so impressed! 

When God hears of it, he has to stoop WAY down to take a look!

In the Book of Revelation, there’s all this furious activity on earth,

people who are trying to overthrow God’s reign,

but in heaven, everything is calm and peaceful;

and when the final conflict comes, it’s over IMMEDIATELY.

By the way, how many times have you ever seen a TV show or movie, 

or read a book that is all about the End of the World,

and it’s told in the most lurid, frightening way?

People don’t read the Bible closely enough.

From a purely human point of view, it is a big deal;

But from Heaven’s point of view? 

All this storm and excitement is next to nothing, over and done, 

and then real life, the the life Jesus came to give, begins. 

We’ve just been through the Easter season, last week Pentecost, 

and today we focus on the Holy Trinity.

That’s a big subject, but I think there’s a way we can keep this simple.

God stooped down from heaven, becoming one of us – 

coming down into our lives, to bring us into the life of God.

One of the best expressions of this is so simple and routine, we miss it: 

and that is when you and I make the Sign of the Cross. 

We begin Mass with it and we end with it. 

You do it with holy water when you enter and leave.

Notice what we do: we say, 

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” 

as we mark ourselves with the Cross.

Here’s what that means:

Jesus came to bring you and me into the life of the Trinity;

The Cross is what puts us there; being baptized puts us there.

When you and I follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

then we are “surrounded,” as it were, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How amazing is it that God made it the Cross that puts us there?

The Cross was an act of unspeakable cruelty and ugliness and injustice.

So we look around and we see things that are wrong – 

and that’s real, you’re not mistaken! – then, remember, that’s the Cross.

God not only sees it, he put himself right there! On the Cross.

And that ugliness not only doesn’t defeat what is good and beautiful,

in a way that never stops leaving us breathless,

that ugliness becomes the heart and center 

of the greatest goodness and beauty of all.

Keep perspective: all the controversies and causes for sadness

are not bigger than the good world our good God has given us.

Look at these silly cicadas who pop out every 17 years.

They’re a nuisance, but they’re harmless and kind of fun.

If you’re a dog, a cat or a bird, 

it’s All-You-Can-Eat Thanksgiving Dinner!

And, it’ll all be behind us soon enough. 

The really amazing thing is, 

those cicadas been doing this for 50 million years. 

Every time they emerge, we humans are worked up about something;

but no matter what, they keep coming back. 

The world keeps going on despite all our drama.

In God’s time and way – not ours – it will all turn to heaven.

One day we will wake up in that Divine Life, that Trinity Life.

Hell is that little speck of a place that won’t accept that happiness.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

God goes out to bring us back (Pentecost homily)

 With today being Pentecost, it seems like a good time 

to share a little from St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas boiled down everything God is doing in his work 

both of creating humanity and even more, in saving us:

into two words: exitus and reditus; 

or, in English, “going out” and “coming back.”

And what Thomas meant was this: God “exits” 

or goes out of himself in creating us; 

the Father gives the Word, and everything comes into existence. 

We exist – this universe exists – 

solely because of this “going out” of God’s will, God’s power 

and above all, God’s love.

But humanity turned away and that brings corruption and decay:

So there is another exitus, another “going out”:

God the Son enters and becomes part of Creation!

That leads to the Cross where God “empties” himself, as it were, surrendering to suffering and death.

But all this is about the reditus, the “going back”; 

the bringing back of creation and specifically, US, to the life of God!

So when Jesus ascends – as we recalled last week – he doesn’t go alone.

Our human nature went with him to heaven.

Where Jesus the head goes, we are promised to follow.

Now we come to Pentecost:

the “going out” of the Holy Spirit, which also means a new creation; 

we human beings are remade.

It the beginning, God breathed life into Adam.

On Pentecost, the Father “breathed” the Holy Spirit, 

into those who have been redeemed by the Son:

these re-created people, together, are “the Church,” 

the Body of Christ, who is the new Adam.

In one way, of course, Pentecost happened once in history;

but in another way, Pentecost happens over and over, 

every time someone is baptized.

And then again, it happens in every Mass.

Do you see what’s up on the ceiling over the altar? A dove.

That signifies that only with an ongoing Pentecost 

does anything really powerful or supernatural happen.

Only when the Holy Spirit goes out from God 

does any sacrament do anything:

and only when the Holy Spirit comes down on this altar,

does bread and wine become the true and real presence of Jesus.

This is a good time to look at the Eucharist,

Because the Eucharist shows us what we are and what we will be.

Bread and wine come to the altar; ordinary bread and wine, not fancy.

At Father Puthoff’s first Mass last week, 

Father Amberger explained that the bread and wine 

we bring to the altar is rather poor, even embarrassing!

But that’s the point: the offering of our own selves is, honestly, 

even more meagre and embarrassing.

You and I come to Mass, maybe we don’t really want to be here;

Maybe we are counting the minutes till we leave, 

Just going through the motions – and yes, I include myself here!

That’s who we are as frail, sinful people: we’re a poor offering!

But God works with that: down comes the Holy Spirit!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, after the consecration, 

the Body and Blood still have every appearance of bread and wine;

and this can be a challenge to our faith.

What do newly baptized Christians look like?

What do people fresh out of confession act like?

We trust that despite appearances,

the bread and wine truly and really become Jesus.

It’s even harder to see, yet necessary to believe, that similarly,

baptism and absolution in confession and reception of the Eucharist 

and the other sacraments truly make a real change in us.

We live in time and everything happens to us frame-by-frame;

God is eternal, and what seems to take forever to us 

is a blink of the eye for the Holy Trinity.

Parents get an inkling of this when you look at your children and think, 

oh, it was just the other day when they were babies – 

except that “other day” was a year, ten years, 18 years ago!

The Eucharist shows us what you and I are destined to be:

We are brought back into the Holy Trinity;

You and I are transformed into the Body of Christ!

Saint Augustine said, regarding receiving Holy Communion:

“Become what you receive.”

So today we pause to contemplate the work of the Holy Spirit

as He goes out from the Trinity, and renews and recreates everything; 

and we human beings are the primary recipient of this recreation.

No matter who you are, or where you are in your journey…

you may see your sins pile up to heaven;

or you look around at a world that seems spinning out of control…

you may think you haven’t got even a single clue on life or the future;

and you find it impossible to believe 

God can make you into anything worthwhile… 

No matter where you think you are, or how long a journey lies ahead,

the one place you know you are is in the loving gaze of your Father.

God created a beautiful world and put you into it;

then he put himself into you; 

so that you will be brought completely and fully 

into the fullness of God’s own life!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Leaving on a jet plane (Ascension + Confirmation homily)

I want to talk about the sacrament of confirmation today;
But we’re recalling the Ascension – so what’s the connection?

Well, it’s easier when you and I clear away the wrong ideas 
about the Ascension and get straight what’s going on.

A lot of the focus is, “Jesus gets to go back to heaven. Good for him!”
But that misses the point. Jesus in heaven is good for US. Why?
Remember, Jesus has made us part of him.
What did we hear just the other day? 
“I am the Vine, you are…the branches”:
We’re the body, he’s the head. We’re one with him.

There are plenty of times we find that hard to grasp;
And when you and I don’t act like we’re part of Jesus.
But that is what our Faith is, that’s what it is all about.
Therefore, where he goes, we go. He brings us along.

So the Ascension is not, “Bye Jesus, see you at the end of the world!”
But rather, Jesus says, “Let’s finish the trip: all aboard!”

So with that in mind, how does confirmation fit in?
Let’s keep going with the “going on a trip” analogy.
You get on an airplane, they check your ticket, right? 

That’s baptism: baptism puts you on the plane.
It’s a long flight, so they’ll feed you:
But this airplane food is the best: the Holy Eucharist!

What do they say when you get in your seat and about to take off?
Buckle your seat belt, right? Why? It may be bumpy. You’ll be OK.
And that’s confirmation! 
Confirmation lets you know: you’re where you belong, you’re solid.

Actually, confirmation does even more.
It unlocks the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit in each of us,
so that whatever our role on that airplane, we’ll have what we need.
Maybe you’re the pilot or navigator; or one of the flight attendants…

Maybe that’s what I am! I come around to see if you’re OK;
I give you the Holy Eucharist; if you’re feeling sick I anoint you!

Even as a passenger on the plane, you have a job to do.

Have you ever had to calm another passenger?
If there’s an emergency, you’re a doctor, you’re a nurse, you’re a priest:
They need your skills and your calm and your courage.
Confirmation is that sacrament that says, 
you’re part of the team, you’re ready to do your part.

Now, the good news is that on Jesus Airlines, the plane will get there! 
There are bumps and detours and complaints 
and the passengers don’t always behave well.
Nevertheless, the plane will get there.
Confirmation is all about empowering each of us to do our part.

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.