Saturday, December 25, 2021

Truly home (Christmas homily)

 This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”

It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Welcome home!

Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 

“Home for the Holidays.” 

Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 

but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.

Yet the more I thought about it, 

I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.

It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.

Every single one of us is.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 

The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”

That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.

As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.

Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;

They left the Garden; they left home.

And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!

He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.

God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –

what the cold world of time cannot give us:

Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,

He says something odd: 

“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”

What could that mean?

It means this:

That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”

In that call was a promise that God would one day really be here – 

for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or a ritual, 

but in flesh and blood. 

In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 

God becoming one of us.

And it’s always been about the Cross, 

because what does it mean to say God is with us,

if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?

Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.

I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.

So it was always about Resurrection, which means,

not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,

but Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!

That gives his name, Emmanuel, God-with-us, even more meaning.


God came and made his home with us in our exile;

always with us, often hidden, often ignored.

Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.

This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?

How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 

but not what it refers to?

What good is a “season of lights” 

that is about no more than electricity or candles?

God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:

To bring you and me home: home to him.

Remember what I’ve been saying all Advent: this is about the Kingdom.

This is about our forever-after.

That is “joy to the world”;

Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “peace on earth.” 

And what you and I see before our eyes – 

what the prophets and patriarchs

could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 

that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.

This church, this place, 

this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.

Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.

With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,

But of that Place – of heaven.

In the incarnation, God became man;

By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!

Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!

All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 

to make us long all the more for our true home,

the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.

I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.

We all try so hard to make Christmas special,

to make everything sparkle and glow.

As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.

Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,

but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:

We want to go home! 

To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Grace is the hidden power of the Kingdom (Sunday homily)

 As you have heard me say at least once in recent weeks, 

Advent is fundamentally about the Kingdom of Christ, 

not merely about Christmas. 

I say that because Christmas itself is only important 

because it’s about the Kingdom.

That’s why Jesus was born: his Kingdom is sill being formed.

So, it may sound strange, 

but even with Christmas so close, keep your gaze on the far horizon!

A great day of justice and fulfillment still lies ahead.

Every time you and I get angry about suffering 

Or dispirited by injustice,

that is yet another reminder to look, not back, but forward.

And what I want to highlight today is the hidden power of the Kingdom: that power is grace.

What is grace? 

Grace is God’s own life and love, 

at work in the world, and in us, to change us and make us like God.

This is my Android tablet. I don’t use it as much as I used to,

and I haven’t plugged it in lately. As a result, it has no juice. It’s dead.

What electricity does for this device 

is a lot like what grace does for you and me. 

Without God’s grace, you and I would not merely be dead; 

in fact, without grace, we would not “be,” at all! 

It is God’s grace that causes you to exist, me to exist,

this world to exist, for this world to reveal him to us,

and ultimately, for him to come into this world to save you and me.

The same grace that filled Mary from her first moment 

is what sent Gabriel to her at the appointed time.

And then in Elizabeth, and in the unborn child, John, all grace at work!

You may not think you are important, 

just as people didn’t think that little town of Bethlehem was important.

But God’s grace decided differently.

It is grace that stirs up your heart to long for God, 

to know you need him and to turn to him in repentance.

It is God’s grace that lifts your heart when you hear his word.

It was grace that led your parents to bring you to be baptized,

and through that baptism, grace entered your life 

and made you a child of God.

The great struggle of this world is between sin and grace.

Sin corrupts and destroys, but grace brings us back to life and, 

more than that, leads us to eternal life, life beyond life.

Grace is the hidden power at work in the world.

It is the greatest power in the world;

And that power is given to you, day by day – 

in every possible way, but above all in the sacraments – 

to bring you safely home.

To be a Christian is not only to believe in that hidden mystery, 

but to know that with certainty that grace is real, 

to see what otherwise remains unseen, 

and because of that, to find courage, hope, and joy, no matter what.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate Christmas as a down-payment: 

a foretaste of all that lies ahead.

It’s so fitting that we decorate everything with lights.

And it’s not too late to add more! 


Because every added light is a small step toward the brilliance 

of the Kingdom in which each of us is a citizen. 

Although we haven’t been there yet, that kingdom is our home.

It is where we belong. It is where we are heading.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

John the Baptist and Kingdom Joy (Sunday homily)

When John was stomping around on the banks of the Jordan, 

he was a spectacle. 

He wore strange clothes – camel hair – and he ate locusts. 

Just to be clear: that’s not just weird today, 

that was strange back then.

And John knew that. 

He was like the people you meet who are in religious life. 

They wear funny clothes, just like I wear a cassock: 

it makes you stand out. That’s part of the point.

John was trying to make clear that he stood apart. 

When you make the Sign of the Cross in a restaurant, 

you’re doing the same, 

which is why some people don’t want to be seen saying grace.

John was willing to be a spectacle. 

And you can just imagine some number of the people who came out, 

came for that reason, to see a show.

I can just picture some teenage boys, standing off to one side, 

whispering and snickering, can’t you?

And then John would pick somebody out in the crowd.

He’d fix his eyes right on you, pinning you to the wall!

“You soldier! You farmer! You student! You parent! 

You came to see me dump water on people 

but one is coming after me who's going to pour fire!

Are you ready for Him?”

And notice when John was challenging people, 

the Gospel said it was “good news”: why? 

The keynote of this Sunday, 

in the readings and in the prayers, is joy, rejoicing. 

That's what the rose-colored vestments signify. 

Let me just explain that joy isn't the same as feeling up,

being in a good mood, being all sparkly and bubbly.

If you've lost someone you love, if you have work problems, 

family problems, health problems, or other issues, 

it can be really hard to be chirpy and cheerful, 

especially at this time of year. 

So, just to be clear, that’s OK.

You have permission not to be all Suzy Sunshine. 

Because joy isn’t about a mood or your personality.

It’s down deep, like bedrock, and it doesn’t change from day to day.

This is where what John the Baptist was saying ties in.

What John was offering is the path to true joy:

getting right with God; getting right with your parents, your family, 

your friends, and the people you work with.

So now, this is my John the Baptist-spectacle moment.

I want to do whatever it takes to grab you.

What do you think?

Should I march up and down the aisle like a TV preacher, 

hooting and hollering? That could be fun!

Oh, what a scandal! People would talk!

The point is, I want you to hear that invitation.

This sermon isn’t for someone else, it’s for YOU. 

I may not be able to look everyone in the eye, 

but the Holy Spirit can speak to you in a way I cannot.

You want that true joy, that deep-down joy?

Go to confession. 

John would have said, get baptized.

And if you’ve never been baptized, 

then talk to me about becoming a Christian. 

But most of us are already baptized, 

so, for us, it’s renewing that new birth.

That’s what confession is.

Knowing you are at peace with God, at peace with others?

That is joy!

And don’t wait till the last minute. 

It’s the same every year, right in the last few days, 

it’s like check-out at Wal-Mart!

It’s OK, But I’m saying, if you come THIS week,

you can get a jump on last-minute rush. 

Don’t worry that you can’t remember how. I’ll help you!

You know what my best Christmas gift is?

Someone comes to confession, it’s been a long time,

he or she is really burdened, overwhelmed, 

and then gets to be quit of it all! In a few minutes! 

Every priest will tell you; we can sense that huge weight sliding off!

I’m not saying, come to confession for me.

I’m saying, you’re waiting in line, sweating, all churned up,

and you’re wondering, what will the priest think? 

I’m thinking, this is a really good day! God just made my week!

That’s joy for me; that’s joy for you!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

What is 'Kingdom Justice'? (Sunday homily)

 As I said last week, this time of year – Advent and Christmas – 

is all about pointing toward the Kingdom Jesus will one day establish.

Today, I want to talk about the first reading mentions: JUSTICE.

What is Kingdom Justice?

God’s Justice is complete in a way human justice cannot be.

We have a “justice system”: 

police, courts, lawyers, judges, and prisons.

It isn’t perfect; it gets abused sometimes.

“We the people” are ultimately in charge,

and if we get mad enough, and mobilized enough,

you and I can change those laws and the judges and the prosecutors.

This is a good time to make a key point:

As Christians, it is our duty 

to bring as much of God’s justice as we can into this world. 

You and I cannot make this world perfect, 

but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better than it is.

And one of the things we will answer for, before God, 

is whether we made any attempts, whether we ever lifted our voice, 

or put ourselves out to bring more justice, more healing, in our world.

Even when our system of justice is at its best,

no human process or punishment can undo the injuries done.

At the end of the road, we send someone to prison,

or perhaps even execute someone.

As you know, the last several popes and our bishops 

have called for abolition of the death penalty if possible.

The reason is not that some people don’t deserve the worst penalty – 

because some certainly do deserve it –

but because killing people, if we don’t have to, 

doesn’t help us respect the dignity of human life.

But the main point I want to make is that in the end, 

the most our justice system can do is punish. 

We call prisons “penitentiaries,” in hope of bringing reform. 

But if you take a close look at prison life – if you can stomach it – 

you will see how powerless you and I are at bringing true justice.

Terrible people go to prison and they hone their skills at evil.

The good news is that some people do experience grace in prison.

They hit bottom and finally call out to God.

God’s justice isn’t only punishment, but healing.

God’s justice is holiness and wholeness.

There is no criminal so vile that God does not long to restore.

It’s very hard to comprehend how God does this.

There is both the human side and the God side of the process.

The part we understand is that sin and wrong do need punishment, 

there do need to be consequences. 

Sometimes – I emphasize, sometimes – this happens in this life.

People may seem to get off easy, but God is not fooled.

This is the mercy of purgatory – and I emphasize, mercy!  

Purgatory is the perfect example of God’s justice, 

in contrast to human justice,  

because purgatory isn’t only punishment, it is healing.

Think of the thief on the cross, dying next to Jesus.

We don’t know what crimes he committed, 

but they could be the most horrendous you can imagine. 

The human side was, he was punished – terribly!

But then there’s the divine side:

God was nailed to the Cross next to that thief!

It wasn’t an accident: Jesus chose to die with and for that man!

That’s the God side. You and I could never pay what we owe.

God pays for us!

Two criminals died with Jesus that day, on either side.

One rejected him and all he offered.

The other cried out for mercy and was told, 

This day you will be with me in Paradise!

Does that mean the good thief had no purgatory?

No. He was crucified, so that may have been his purgatory.

Or, for all we know, his purgatory and ours 

takes but an instant in earthly terms. 

So finally, we come to the frightening scene in the Gospel.

The upheaval it shows is what happens when God’s Justice meets worldly injustice! 

But notice Jesus says, you and I can stand before him, unafraid! 


On that day, we need not be ashamed, 

if we chose to stand for His Justice, and to live it,

while we wait and pray for the coming of his Kingdom.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

To enter the Kingdom requires radical conversion (Christ the King homily)

 Today is the feast of Christ the King and then we go into Advent.

I know you’ve heard people say, 

Advent is about preparing for Christmas.

But the truth is, Advent isn’t primarily about Christmas.

When you hear the readings next week,

they are going to sound a lot like this week’s readings,.

and they aren’t about the birth of Jesus.

Rather, we heard just now about the end of time,

when Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,

brings down the final curtain on this world.

The truth is, Advent does NOT point to Christmas.

Advent and Christmas both point to what today is about: the Kingdom.

So, I decided that would be a good theme for a series of homilies.

As we head toward Christmas, I invite you to reflect on the Kingdom.

What is the Kingdom?  What do we mean by that?

We’ll have some Bible-study materials available from Scott Hahn, 

which will fill in a lot of interesting background from the Scriptures.

But let’s start with words you and I pray daily, 

“thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

First, notice those words from the Lord’s Prayer:

We pray that when Jesus reigns, earth and heaven will be united, 

and God’s ways will rule earth the same way God rules heaven.

That’s not true now.

Also, did you notice in the opening prayer, 

it referred to “restor(ing) all things, 

and freeing “the whole creation…from slavery”?

In a few minutes, when I am at the altar, 

you’ll hear reference to “a kingdom of truth and life…

a kingdom of holiness and grace…justice, love and peace.”

These are some glimpses of what the Kingdom is about.

Let’s focus in on the Gospel, because it shows, if you will,

the two Kingdoms face-to-face: the Kingdom of this world, 

and the Kingdom of God.

It’s a shame this Gospel reading stops where it does.

After Jesus said, “I came to bear witness to the truth,”

what did Pilate say back, remember? “What is truth?”

If that isn’t the perfect statement of this world’s values!

It’s a shame to say it, but just because CNN, NBC, and even Fox, 

all call themselves “News,” 

that is no guarantee that what they disseminate 

has any close connection to the truth!

It’s not just the media! There are a lot of us who are oh-so-ready 

to believe and spread dirt when it confirms our biases. 

What do we say? “Oh, I just knew it!”

In a kingdom of truth, justice and love, 

we are SLOW to believe the worst. 

And even slower to repeat it, and never revel in it.

Keep looking at this confrontation between Pilate and Jesus.

Pilate has thousands of soldiers at his command.

He can – and will – have Jesus beaten and killed.

And he’s just one part of a vast machine of cruelty.

That’s worldly power. That’s the Kingdom of Man.

And yet Pilate hesitates. 

He is standing before a reality he cannot comprehend.

Why doesn’t this “king” defend himself? 

How could he possibly defeat almighty Rome?

And how can this Jesus be so calm, while I am quaking?

Did Pilate realize that all the things 

he counted as “strength” were utterly powerless?

Jesus is unshaken because he knows Pilate’s moment will be brief.

The same with Rome and every other human ambition.

His strategy is not to break backs but to change hearts.

His army is the martyrs. His most powerful weapon is forgiveness!

Jesus was barely comprehensible to Pilate, 

but that should not surprise us. 

When you look out through worldly eyes, 

God’s ways are, indeed, going to look very strange.

So, this week’s lesson of the Kingdom 

is that to enter it means conversion. 

Meaning, you see differently. 

And you end up at sharp angles to worldly values.

I am not talking about a slight course correction.

A lot of folks think to be a Christian just means 

adding a little prayer and religious talk, 

a baptism here, a first communion and confirmation there, 

and putting in some hours at Mass through the year

if it doesn’t conflict with something that is actually important!

Doing just enough to keep your spouse happy and look respectable.

Boy, are they wrong! They could never stand before Pilate!

And I don’t even mean the Pilate in the Gospel.

How about the Pilate at work who says, “so, you’re a Catholic, huh?”

Or at school who mocks the Rosary to see if anyone says anything.

The Kingdom of Pilate is respectable. It’s how the world works.

Or you can have that so-called king who is abandoned, 

who the crowd is laughing at, 

who looks like a freak compared to Pilate!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

What is the very best sign God can give? (Sunday homily)

 Throughout time, there have always been people scavenging 

for every possible clue for God’s timetable for the future.

Today’s Gospel is, as they say, “red meat” for that hunger. 

People want to know how this world will end, and the new ushered in.

In short, people want signs. Show me a sign, they kept telling Jesus.

In our time, if people hear about a statue crying,

or someone shares a picture of a miraculous tortilla,

everyone comes from all over to see it.

And these things can be genuine. Or not. I can’t say.

What I can say is this. You want a sign?

Jesus has already given you and me 

the best of all signs, the absolute best. 

There is nothing greater he can still give than what he’s already given. 

He came. He died. He rose from the dead!

He sent his Apostles and others in his name,

telling them: “Do THIS in memory of me.”

I’m talking about the Holy Mass. The Most Holy Eucharist!

You want a sign?

That’s the absolute best you can get.

There is no need for anything more. 

Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist 

is as full and complete a confirmation as God can give.

The only “more” we can hope for is heaven itself. 

This weekend we are having Forty Hours, 

with the Lord Jesus on the altar to adore.

Use your imagination now.

If the monstrance were on the altar right now, 

you would see the pale, white disc of the Sacred Host. 

This truly is Jesus’ Body and Blood. No shilly-shallying around. 

The Eucharist is Jesus, himself.

Yes, while retaining the physical qualities of bread or wine, 

but after all, would you really prefer to see bloody flesh?

In your mind, see the Sacred Host, as if he were on the altar now.

And what if you and I could step up to the monstrance, 

and do what Alice in the story, Alice in Wonderland, did.

Remember that? She drew close to the mirror and stepped through it.

What if somehow you and I could “step into” 

the monstrance on the altar, and pass beyond?

Where would we be? The answer is heaven! Heaven!

You want a “sign”? The Eucharist is Jesus: 

the fullness of God and all his promises. There is nothing more.

On Christmas we might look around for one more present.

But no, there is nothing more to look for than the Eucharist!

So, if you ever have said, God give me a sign!

Show me, prove to me, that you love me, 

that I matter, that I can dare to hope: 

the Most Holy Eucharist is that sign!

This is “Vocations Awareness” week.

Everyone knows we need more priests, more religious.

There are so many young men I’ve watched grow up.

From my perspective, I think you’d be fine priests, and I’ve told you so.

I stop bringing it up when you bring your fiancé by to meet me!

But I can’t really know. Only God can give that call.

What I want to say is, men, if you want to make a difference,

if you want to leave a legacy and change lives,

being a priest is an awesome way to do it.

And you are privileged to be right there, at the altar – 

and, just as much, at the Upper Room, 

and at the Cross, and at the empty tomb.

He is the “Sign” of all signs.

You get to be the bringer, the sharer, of this Sign.

I won’t kid you. There’s work. There’s sadness and sacrifice.

There’s times of tedium and misunderstanding.

But, oh what a life! You get to be his companion along the way!

And I want to say about the religious life for brothers and sisters.

The task of those in religious life is likewise to be a sign.

Not THE Sign; that’s Jesus. You are the “sign of the Sign.”

Your vows are all about trying to live – as fully as possible – 

a life full of heaven while here on earth.

Now, I’m going to say here something “politically incorrect.”

Some of our religious orders have lost their way.

Don’t let that discourage you. 

There are many communities that are 

full of zeal and joy to know Jesus and make him known.

To serve others in so many ways.

They don’t hide who they are, 

and the center of their common life is the Holy Eucharist.

It’s not for everyone. But if some part of you longs for…MORE, 

then maybe it’s the religious life you hunger for.

And if you don’t at least TRY it, you’ll always wonder, what if?

If you call me, I’ll get you connected.

Don’t worry, they don’t lock you in the convent or seminary!

And I’m not going to start calling you like a telemarketer!

In a moment, we’ll witness the wonder of Jesus offering himself 

on the Cross and at the same time, on the altar.

And then if we are ready, spiritually – I mean, in a state of grace – 

He gives himself to us. Total gift. All of God and heaven.

All of love. All of hope. All there is to give!

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

If the National (not very) Catholic Reporter could be embarrassed...

This article, "What makes our bishops think they own the Eucharist?" would do it. Alas. 

Let's look at this penetrating commentary together, shall we?

To be fair, headlines are usually written by the editor, who clearly was too busy, or else he/she/they/it/erm would surely have seen greater merit in other options:

"You can't make me!"

"Who died and made you the boss of us, bishops?"

"I know you are but what am I?"

But if we ascribe to this mindset a seriousness that is doubtfully there, we might translate this headline to, "Why do the bishops think they get to make these decisions?" But of course, that takes Marianne Duddy-Burke nowhere she wants to go. Who did Jesus put in charge of his Church? The Apostles. And guess who succeeds them? Er ... the bishops? But gosh, the NCR still has a lot of space to fill; now what?

Ms./Mr./Mx. Duddy-Burke is terribly concerned with people not receiving Holy Communion if they "support legal abortion" or redefining marriage and other things. But Duddy-Burke thinks it's entirely too silly a question to even ask why any of these things (or anything else) would even raise an issue of someone not being allowed to receive Holy Communion. Which raises the first question I'd want to ask these folks who get the vapors at the thought of a politician or anyone being denied communion:

"Are there ever any circumstances under which a bishop rightfully ought to bar giving someone Holy Communion?" But of course Duddy-Burke and the NCR crowd never, never poses this question. Why so incurious?

Because, of course, that again leads somewhere they do not want to go; namely, to a discussion of just what those situations might be; and why facilitating the destruction of unborn children isn't worthy to include in that list.

Instead, Duddy-Burke takes us on a tour of church history. According to her, in those happy, olden-golden days of yore, "What we now know as Holy Communion originated in a home-based religious ritual, the Passover Seder, which is still a sacred celebration marked by Jews and friends in their homes."

And, of course, there was never any question of allowing absolutely everyone to take part in the Passover seder -- everyone knows that! Right?

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it. However, every slave bought for money you will circumcise; then he may eat of it. But no tenant or hired worker may eat of it. It must be eaten in one house; you may not take any of its meat outside the house.k You shall not break any of its bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate this feast. If any alien residing among you would celebrate the Passover for the LORD, all his males must be circumcised, and then he may join in its celebration just like the natives. But no one who is uncircumcised may eat of it (Exodus 12:43-48).

Oops. Well, maybe Duddy-Burke needs to do a little more studying. She/he/yrm may want to check out the Didache, from the period she is describing:

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs  (Chapter 9).

Or St. Justin Martyr:

The Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. 

Oops again!

Well, Duddy-Burke is not faint of heart, and plows on, rejecting seeing "the Eucharist ... as something we 'receive,' rather than something we are vitally and essentially part of creating, sharing, and responding to. Something we are — the body of Christ." Not wrong; but a little fuzzy. She also laments that the Eucharist came to be "administered only by the clerical caste," whereas rightfully, quoting theologian Thomas Groome, the Eucharist "is the work of the whole community. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the community, the assembly acts in union with Christ to realize again the Risen One's eucharistic presence in its midst."

Say, did you notice something? No mention of a priest being involved in the Eucharist! How about that! Look again: it's the "whole community," the "assembly," "in union with Christ" that confects the Eucharist.

How about that! I can go to brunch on Sundays!

But this raises a question for Duddy-Burke: if you don't need a priest to have the Eucharist, why are you complaining? According to you, you can stay home, with your friends, and have a nice seder-sort-of-meal, and have the Eucharist. No meanie bishops being mean to "shroud" everything with "mystery and taboo." Scary!

Seriously: why does Duddy-Burke even care what those dastardly bishops and their "clerical caste" have to say? Everyone can have the Eucharist any way he/she/gorm wants!

Shorter Duddy-Burke article:

D-B: You mean, terrible bishops, you won't let me and my friends have the Eucharist!
Bishops: But you just said you don't need us; you can celebrate the Eucharist without us.
D-B: Haters! (Blocked on twitter.)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

What will you put at risk for Christ? (Sunday homily)

 The Gospel we just heard poses a very simple question, 

but it cuts deep, right to our very core: 

how much are you and I willing to give to Jesus Christ?

It’s not necessarily a matter of money. 

The widow in the Gospel didn’t just give a donation. 

As Jesus said, she gave everything she had to live on. 

She put everything on the line.

How much will we put on the line?

Blessed John Newman, the great English protestant 

who became Catholic, gave a sermon one time 

in which he posed a similar question. 

He asked whether we are really putting anything at risk for our faith. 

And he made the point that quite a lot of us 

probably would make most of the same decisions, 

whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not. 

We would probably have the same job, the same life, and so forth.

That is really quite a question, isn’t it?

What can you and I point to in our choices, in our lives,

that really is different, because we follow Jesus?

Many of our parents have rejected contraception, 

and made other sacrifices in welcoming more children 

and in making sure they have time to be with their children,

to give them every advantage as followers of Jesus.

They are thinking not only of this world, but the world to come.

There are spouses who struggle, but they hang in, to keep their vows.

I can imagine there are folks in business who have made decisions 

that no one else knows about, taking a loss or forgoing extra profit.

There are probably many stories that could be told – 

but we don’t tell the stories – 

about forgiving a wrong, enduring mockery, taking the harder path, 

because of the words of Christ and for love of him.

Still, there’s that widow. Not a rich person. A poor widow. 

She gave not just something, but everything she had.

At this moment, I really think I’m in the way; 

I’m interrupting a conversation 

which is really between each of us, and Jesus himself. 

He’s the one who makes the invitation.

He is the one who calls us: 

come, follow me – and Peter and Andrew, James and John 

left their nets; their livelihood; everything they had.

Jesus calls you. 

Your Creator and Redeemer speaks to you as only he can. 

He has prepared your life and given you your gifts. 

What will you answer?

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Who (or what) do you love? (Sunday homily)

Let’s dive into this Gospel reading a bit with a couple of questions.

First, what actually does it mean to “love”?

Answer: love is not a mere emotion, a rush of blood to your . . . face.

It’s not simply a flutter in your stomach. 

Love is a choice.

Love is a fundamental commitment to the good of the other person.

So, whether I am talking about loving my family, my friends, 

my country, a stranger, or even my enemy, it’s the same: 

willing the good of the other person.

But now we have a puzzle: how does this apply to God?

When you and I say we “love” God, how, exactly?

What good can I will for God?

God has every perfection; he needs nothing at all, 

that I can either give him or want him to have.

Part of the answer is that God points us to our fellow man, as if to say, 

I don’t need anything; but look around: 

there are hungry people, folks who are in crisis,

children who are abandoned, 

people suffering from poverty or injustice or violence. 

You want to love Me, God says? Love them in my name.

So, today, after Mass, you can do this 

by picking up some pans and recipes for making casseroles.

I think it’s a good guess that of the 700 hundred or so folks 

who will come to Mass here this weekend, 

at least half of us are old enough to make a casserole. 

Two casseroles aren’t much harder than one.

Making even four casseroles isn’t that difficult.

So, I really think St. Remy could generate 1,000 casseroles.

Let’s see if we can hit 500 this time!

That said, there are those who have tried to boil down 

the first commandment, “Love God,” 

to the second commandment, “Love they neighbor.”

But if that were all there is to it, then Jesus would have said that.

So there’s still the question: how do you and I actually love God?

And I think part of the answer has to be, to love God as God, meaning, 

to adore God, to worship God, to bend the knee to him.

Thus, the first of the Ten Commandments says, 

“I am the Lord your God; you shall not have any other gods.”

There are those who say, I don’t see why I am obligated to go to Mass, 

I don’t need this – and I suspect some here have said this at times:

the answer is, Yes, you and I do need to go to Mass.

I’d like to take more time on this next point, but I will say briefly,

Notice I said, go to MASS, not merely, “go to church.”

It’s not about the building but about Jesus offering himself for us 

to the Father. That’s what Holy Mass IS.

Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, meditating on God’s Creation – 

these are good things, but nothing compares to the Holy Mass.

Many people have legitimate challenges in getting to Mass, 

but a lot of the time, it’s because the wrong thing is put first.

Humanity needs to worship God. 

If we do not worship God, we will end up worshipping something worse.

Or as Bob Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.”

My German ancestors ran around the Black Forest 

worshipping nature and trees. Sound familiar?

We are all in favor of safeguarding the environment, 

but do you think some people take it too far?

There’s actually a thing called the “Extinction Movement.”

You know what that’s about? Our extinction: no more humans!

No, we don’t have temples with idols dotting the landscape, 

but that doesn’t mean you and I aren’t tempted to worship other gods.

It can be money or success or power or wrath, 

but eventually it gets revealed as worshipping ourselves, our own will.

We Americans love to emphasize freedom, 

but that too can become an idol. 

Consider how the self-will has been lifted so high, 

that if you make a joke I don’t like, that’s called “violence.”

Consider the “transgender” phenomenon. 

Let’s acknowledge that real people are experiencing 

an alienation from themselves – it’s not clear why, 

but it really happens and it creates real pain and suffering.

So, I’m not making light of this.

That said, we’re at a point where the supposed answer is,

you and I get to create a bubble of our own reality around ourselves.

I’m going to change my pronouns, and you must agree! 

We’re making a god of the will to the point 

that I can create my own universe, 

superior to the objective world around us!

People experiencing gender confusion deserve better than that.

What happens when we don’t worship God? We worship something else.

And you may scoff and say, that doesn’t affect me, 

but our government is determined that it will. 

And that’s only one way we go wrong.

To repeat: if you and I don’t worship the one, true God, 

then we will worship something else. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

A homily about hope (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

These readings highlight the virtue of hope. 

The first reading is all about hope for the remnant of God’s People. 

And the blind man in the Gospel hopes for a miracle, so he can see.

Hope is about what you cannot see, what seems impossible. 

That’s what Saint Paul says in his letter to the Romans: 

when you see it, when you have it in front of you, that’s not hope.

So, question: how are you doing on hope?

I ask because there are various concerns and anxieties 

weighing people down these days: 

the way the government is handling matters, 

the rising cost of living, 

the employment situation, 

Covid and vaccine mandates,

the plight of Americans and our friends left behind in Afghanistan; 

and if that’s not enough, there’s always the fears generated 

by the Archdiocese’s reorganization project which they’ve cheerfully named…”

Beacons of Hope Light”!*

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing that off; just noting the humor.

Anyway, let’s talk about hope.

Hope isn’t about when things are going your way.

It comes into play precisely when the wheels are falling off!

Jeremiah’s beautiful words of hope 

were given to his people at the moment they were facing annihilation, 

the destruction of their country.

Bartimaeus inspires us, but he’d been blind since birth.

He was a penniless beggar, and his hope was for a miracle.

It ended well, but it raises a question:

If you’re worked up about a problem, are you as serene as Bartimaeus? 

If not, why not?

My point isn’t to promise everyone a miracle, 

but to illustrate the courage of Bartimaeus’ hope. 

Where does that hope come from? How do you achieve it?

Remember, hope is one of the “theological” virtues – 

Faith, Hope and Love – that come from God and it make us like God. 

So if you want hope, as the Holy Spirit for hope.

And I mean, more than just once, or once in a while.

Ask, ask, and ask 100 more times. Keep asking.

A second point: just because what we hope for isn’t seen, 

doesn’t mean we don’t see causes for hope, or signs giving us hope.

Bartimaeus was blind, but his hope was not:

he didn’t pick Jesus at random.

He’d heard things about Jesus that gave him reasons for hope.

So if you aren’t experiencing hope, 

then may I suggest you start looking around for reasons for hope.

If necessary, take a half hour, and a pencil and paper, 

and start writing down everything that is a sign or a cause for hope.

This is really old-fashioned advice, but it works.

Everyone here knows you can put a lot of things on that page.

A big part of Jeremiah’s message is that true, lasting hope 

isn’t in political power or prosperity, but in having God in their hearts.

Or, you could say, it’s not real estate but relationship.

It wasn’t about the land they longed for, 

but having their hearts and God’s heart fused together. 

That is the only sure ground for hope!

Now: stop and realize that what was merely hope for Jeremiah 

is not hope for us, because we have it! 

The new and everlasting covenant!

God came, became one of us, took a heart of flesh and blood,

and offered himself for us.

You and I have Him in the Mass, in the Eucharist, in our hearts!

“I am with you always,” Jesus said, “until the end of the world!”

You and I don’t have to hope for this – we HAVE this!

Nothing and no one can take this from us.

Remember Bartimaeus and remember what they said to him:

“Take courage. Get up. Jesus is calling you.”

* Of course it's "Beacons of Light," my mistake.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Treasure for Treasure (Sunday homily)

 I want to say something about the annual financial report, 

which is included in today’s bulletin, 

but that won’t be the main subject of my homily. 

Once a year I address this topic because 

I want you to know your pastor pays attention to such matters.

And I want you to see for yourself how everything is handled,

that your parish handles your money carefully – and where it goes.

What is given in the bulletin is only a summary; 

there is a far more detailed report that is prepared every year, 

and anyone who wants to see it is welcome to.

If you want to see that, or you have any questions, just let me know.

Some years it is necessary to ask your help to close a deficit; 

or there are unexpected expenses that need explaining. 

Despite all that is crazy in the world around us,

this year, St. Remy’s finances lately are happily boring.

So it really is just a coincidence that I’m talking about the budget 

on the same Sunday Jesus says, “give all your money away”!

Thank you for your generous support, 

which keeps our parish financially stable 

and pays the bills for all we do at St. Remy.

I am confident you see the value of what we’re doing, 

and you want to keep it going.

What the Scripture readings invite us to do is ask:

what truly is my most valuable possession?

There aren’t very many people who actually admit

that money and wealth are what matter most to them.

And yet it happens – more than we want to admit.

Not all of us to give away all our wealth.

Jesus knew that’s what the young man in front of him needed. 

For the rest of us: how do we learn to love our possessions less?

Let me offer a few suggestions.

Parents, if you aren’t doing it already, think about how your children – 

no matter how young they are – can learn to be less materialistic.

They may not yet know the value of money, 

but I bet they have stuff they love, maybe too much? 

What could they give away?

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your kids’ requests for stuff.

My poor parents, I don’t know how they did it, but at some point – 

with seven kids – they learned not to be manipulated by our dramatics.

My dad was actually fine with me having whatever I wanted. 

He would smile and say, “save your money and buy it!” 

May I also suggest trying to have a budget. 

Financial advisors always say, “pay yourself first,” 

meaning, save for the future.

As your soul advisor, I suggest you pay God first.

Have some idea of what you will give away, in money or time.

It doesn’t have to be a large amount; start small.

I know a man who has been tremendously successful in business 

and years ago, he decided he would plan things 

so that he gave all his money away by the time he died. 

How he’s working that out I don’t know. 

But one consequence was that he started 

giving away more than he had before.

It changed how he thought about money.

He started thinking more about the good it could do for others;

and above all, about the true treasure he has in Jesus Christ.

The lesson here isn’t just about money,

it’s about no longer being blind to whatever we value more than Jesus.

And seeing the young man turn away raises another point:

you and I never know what the road not taken would lead to.

If I give up a bad habit, I realize my life will be better, 

but how much better?

If I no longer spend hours absorbed with the Internet, 

where will that time go instead? To my faith?

To my spouse or my kids? What difference might that make?

Once again: what is really the most important thing to you?

Who is most important? 

What will you give up to have that treasure?

Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Family of Parishes & the Family as God created (Sunday homily)

 Obviously everyone is talking about the announcement Friday 

of the proposed “family” of parishes, of which St. Remy will be part.

That “family” will be made up of the following parishes: 

Saint Louis in North Star and St. Nicholas in Osgood, 

Holy Family in Frenchtown, St. Denis in Versailles, St. Remy, 

Immaculate Conception in Bradford, and St. Mary in Greenville.

There will be three priests in total, one of them as pastor.

There are several things I ask you to keep in mind.

First, this arrangement is not set in stone. 

The Archbishop is planning to make a final decision in November.

Second, we don’t know which priests will be assigned to this family.

I hope to stay here, and I’ve offered to be pastor.

But that won’t be known until February or so.

Third, I know everyone is going to have so many questions, 

many, or most, of which I won’t be able to answer.

I don’t know if I’ll be the pastor, 

and someone else might handle it a different way.

Also, it’s REALLY important that everyone 

in all these communities is included BEFORE decisions are made.

So I can’t start spouting off before that happens, you understand?

Please be patient when I keep saying, I don’t know! We’ll get there. 

Of course everyone is going to have different reactions:

maybe shock or anger or disappointment or worry. 

My reaction was actually relief; because now we know.

We can move forward; less uncertainty is better than more.

Here’s my view of the overall map for all 19 counties.

There are some arrangements that are ridiculously large –

such as in Logan, Champaign and Clarke counties –

while many of the parishes in Cincinnati, 

including the Cathedral, are being handled with kid gloves. 

That said, when it comes to our arrangement here,

this is as Goldilocks might say, “not too hot, and not too cold.”

I strongly encourage you to go to the Archdiocese website

and leave comments on the plan. You can write a letter as well.

Be clear, be specific, be constructive, be courteous.

As mentioned, there will be three priests for this new family.

Right now, there are five; so obviously, 

the daily and Sunday Mass schedules will have to change,

and that will likely have to happen by July.

So, you should be prepared to hear a lot more,

and we’ll figure out how everyone can give input in the new year.

I understand this is all a lot to take in.

I want you to know I intend to keep you well informed and also,

I intend to do everything I can to make this work. 

And if we ALL are flexible and cooperate, we WILL make it work.

At the same time, each of the individual parish communities

has its own identity and gifts, and no one wants to lose that.

That’s why the term “family of parishes” is well chosen.

In a family, we are not all carbon copies of each other.

There’s room for a lot of diversity and differences – BUT:

in a family, we aren’t all Lone Rangers, on our own.

In a family, we keep our own personalities, but stick together. 

Today is “Respect Life Sunday,” and one of the special things 

about this larger community is that so many have a heart 

for the unborn child and for their mothers 

who sometimes don’t have the help and support they need.

Meanwhile, the readings are all about the true nature of family:

a man and a woman, together for life, 

cooperating with God who alone gives life.

Notice: today, every detail of this divine design is under attack:

Man-woman; together-for-life; cooperate with God.

Also notice that every detour from God’s plan, 

while it seems to bring happiness, ultimately fails to do so.

Jesus mentions divorce. That’s too complex for this homily.

To state what used to be obvious: 

every effort should be made to avoid divorce.

I’ve seen both parties try very hard to heal things – and it works! 

Not without pain, and not without great patience and forgiveness.

On the other hand, sometimes a civil divorce can’t be avoided.

And the Church teaches that there can be situations – 

involving violence, abuse, danger to the children, or financial ruin – 

where a spouse is justified in seeking a legal separation. 

What Jesus is saying is that a decision by a judge – a court ruling – 

can only change the legal, this-world relationship.

But marriage is more than a legal contract,

and everyone knows that’s true; because even after a divorce,

there are still relationships and responsibilities, 

particularly involving children. 

I also want to say to anyone who has been through a divorce:

sometimes you think you can’t be Catholic anymore. Not true!

Rather than try to deal with all the questions here, just call me!

I’m not going to shake my finger at you. 

I’ll be very glad to clear up misconceptions, and help any way I can.

As you’ve noticed, we’ve talked about family a couple of ways.

I know there are negatives to this parish reorganization, 

and we will just have to sit with that for a bit.

But at some point, you and I have to get on to the task – 

forgive the repetition – of being a family.

Meaning, we’ll have our arguments and push and shove,

but we’re a family; we are in this together. 

The reason the family exists – I mean both the natural family 

and the spiritual family, which we call the Church – 

is to be God’s image in the world and to bring God’s life into the world.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Toxic Religion

Is there such a thing as "toxic religion"? What does this mean? What about the Catholic Faith?

This article at Religion Dispatches caught my eye.And it's tempting to dismiss it, given that there are so many assumptions the author treats as self-evident that are anything but. The most obvious one, it seems to me, is this: if you want to maintain that truth can't be known certainly, then how do you avoid the conclusion that what is truly right and wrong is likewise uncertain? And once you concede that, how do you take any kind of righteous stance against "wrong" or "evil"? Aren't you really conceding that a statement like, "X is wrong" or, "X is evil" means nothing more than, "____ is wrong/evil for me"? It's nothing more than a preference, and why should your preference be imposed? 

If you are someone who can't concede that, at some point, there must be absolute moral norms, then you won't get much from this post. I'm interested in other questions beyond that.

So back to this idea of "toxic" religion. What might that be?

People who talk that way have four things in mind I think:

1) Specific teachings that are "hateful" or "hurtful" toward individuals, because of "who they are" or what they, themselves want or seek.

Most of the time, this is about sex. If you say that some sexual behaviors are immoral, and that being oriented toward those behaviors is unnatural, that's deemed hateful and "toxic." Similarly, if you insist that ones sexual identity is rooted in a fixed reality of biology -- i.e., male and female -- that too is deemed "toxic." 

2) Hostility to free inquiry and thought; being open to what science might tell us about evolution, climate change or vaccines, to cite three common points of dispute.

3) Groups or religions or religious leaders that are too "controlling" -- either in what questions you ask, what beliefs you hold, or what choices you make. 

4) Too much emphasis on guilt.

So let's take these in reverse order.


This is true! 

Christianity certainly talks about sin and, therefore, guilt. We need Jesus because we can't find eternal happiness without him: that's the basic point. Jesus himself said it, and so did the Apostles; the Gospels all say it; and this is what "orthodox" Christianity teaches to this moment, whether big-O Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant.  Some Christians find this a bit much, so you have a more recent idea of near- or total universalism: we'll all end up OK in eternity, so relax.

Meanwhile, there is a legitimately "toxic" tendency -- certainly among Catholics -- to overemphasize sin and guilt. You can see this in many movements through the ages, and any priest hearing confessions can explain scrupulosity to you, and what struggles he faces in trying to dispel it.

Most priests, I think, wrestle with how they frame their homilies and teaching, so as to avoid feeding either extreme. When I stand up in the pulpit, I know some portion of my listeners are "don't worry, be happy" sorts who could use a little bit of fire-and-brimstone; but also listening are fretful folks who fear God will be angry if they stay home from Sunday Mass because, yes, they were sick, but they weren't that sick. Many times I've wanted to give two homilies; and I don't want the first group to hear what I say to the second, and vice-versa.

Meanwhile, there are priests, and particular groups in the Catholic Church, who seem heedless of these issues. Plenty seem to be in the "don't worry" camp; how can they miss all the warnings Jesus gives in the Gospels? Still others write articles and produce videos and booklets that make me wonder: have they never spent time with a scrupulous person? Their exceedingly detailed examinations of conscience are absolute torture for such folks, and end up being training in scrupulosity.

That said, let's admit some core of this complaint is really arising from bad conscience. 

Who enjoys being reminded of ones favorite sins? We're told the Church is "homophobic" and "transphobic" and is "obsessed with pelvic issues." As far as I know, the Seventh Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal") is still a consensus teaching among all varieties of Christians.  While I haven't done that many homilies talking about stealing as such; I also haven't seen many Catholics demanding we "rethink" this doctrine and "bring it up to date." Nevertheless, the Seventh Commandment gets quite a lot of attention from bishops and priests, as regards just wages, questions of "fair" taxation, distribution of benefits to the poor and powerless, issues of "environmental justice," ethical business practices, and so forth.

Yet I am not aware of us being labeled "kleptophobic" or of many saying we're "obsessed" with the issue.  


Again, this is a fair observation. Throughout history some religious movements and charismatic leaders have exerted too much control over the lives of their adherents. 

A very high-profile, recent example would be the Legion of Christ, with it's clearly toxic founder, Marciel Maciel, who used his order to conceal horrendous abuses, including sexual abuse, but also manipulation of his members, who were bound to a vow not to voice criticism. (This is not to demean the many upright people who sought out the Legion in pursuit of holiness, and who sought vocations in the order for good intentions.) 

Is this a particular feature of the Catholic Church, or Christianity in general? It's an old attack on Catholics, that we're all under the control of the pope -- or the Jesuits! -- or our parish priest. I've joked from the pulpit many times that I wish I had anything like the "power" over people -- or weather! -- that people imagine! 

But, seriously, a fair minded observer would notice no pope in almost 200 years has operated without lots of public disagreement; it has been a long time since most bishops "thundered" or "threatened" about anything, and even when they do, few tremble. Has Speaker Nancy Pelosi been the least bit intimidated by her bishop's warnings? 

To be frank, this problem is a pitfall of splitting off from the main body of the Church; and that splitting off can happen precisely when bishops, or the pope himself, has tried to address that unhealthy level of control. When people can set themselves up, independent of any hierarchy or denomination, there's not much control left.

A little tour of recent history -- especially regarding political movements -- will amply demonstrate this is human problem, not particular to religion.

Hostility to inquiry, i.e., science

Again, there is some truth here, to this extent: there are certainly Christians, including Catholics, who buy into the idea that "Science" is contrary to faith, and they are dismissive of scientific ideas that they don't prefer. This includes those who reject evolutionary theory out of hand, and endorse a "young Earth" form of Creationism; also those who are skeptical of climate change, and lately, of vaccines. 

Why this is so is an interesting question, but I want to stay on this main path. 

Nevertheless, I absolutely dispute the idea that any of this is a product of Christianity. "But what about Galileo, hmm?" 

Well, let's set this straight. Without defending how he was treated, the issue with Galileo was not -- it was never -- about studying and learning, or even drawing conclusions. Rather, it was very specifically about drawing theological conclusions. That last thing is what it seemed, to church officials at the time, Galileo was doing. Notice his punishment wasn't death, or to stop learning, but to be silent. Again, not defending it, but let's be clear about that.

And, for that matter, let's also notice that the punishment of Galileo wasn't an exercise of papal teaching authority; it wasn't an infallible declaration. And the proof that it was an abberation is seen in there being pretty few examples to cite apart from Galileo. 

And that was 500 years ago. So all you prove by that example is how terrible it was . . . 500 years ago.


Meanwhile, you have to wear some massive blinders if you look at the sweep of history since the first proclamation of the Gospel to the world on that first Pentecost Sunday, almost precisely 2,000 years ago, and say that as Christianity spread, it brought darkness and superstition and hostility to free thought. 

Is the truth ever "hateful"?

Allowing for all the terrible things that arise from human sinfulness (which is a Christian teaching; if Christianity is wrong about the pervasiveness of sin, how then do we explain the last few thousands years of world history, including but also beyond Christianity?), there remains the BIG QUESTION: is there truth? And if so, WHAT IS IT?

Until you answer that, how can you say any particular conclusion reached by Christianity, about human nature or human destiny -- and the choices that may determine that destiny -- are "hurtful" or "hateful"?

We're told a lot lately that it's "hateful" to say that sex apart from that between a man and woman -- and which is open to the transmission of life -- is wrong. Sinful. Harmful, perhaps in this life, and certainly regarding eternity with God.

Is it hateful...if it's true?

If it IS true, wouldn't it be hateful to say otherwise; or to say nothing?

Let me cite a famous atheist, Penn Jillette. In the video below, at about the 3:30 mark, he asks, "How much to have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell [other people] that?"

This is as good a place to concede the obvious: there are some genuinely hateful people, cloaking their hate in religion. Fred Phelps and his merry band of funeral-crashers come to mind, as do the Taliban. 

God help me, I'll never defend either of these groups -- and I can think of others, as can you, to add to this list -- but you know, this only emphasizes the importance of my main point: what, actually, is the truth?

Do you really think it's a workable strategy to tell Phelps, or the Taliban, or the Iranian mullahs, etc., that there simply is no absolute truth? There is no God? There is no hell to warn people against or to save them from? Really? Explain to me why you think that's going to work. How do you propose to convince the Taliban of this?

All you really can prove is that it's all a matter of what provisional, operational "truth" each of us prefers. Mr. Taliban very much prefers his, thank you very much, Infidel! Why shouldn't he?

"Because it's mean." And what is that -- other than your preference?

No, I really think these examples only make it the more important, instead, to say, yes, there is absolute truth, from which we derive certain absolutes of right and wrong, and here's how your actions, Mr. Phelps, Mr. Taliban, measure up.

Mr. Phelps says he's thinking about eternity. So am I. And if you want to counter Mr. Phelps, you better do so as well. 

Back to sex

To large numbers of people, it seems absurd to say that God cares much about human sex lives. But once you start thinking about it, no one could say he doesn't care at all. At least some sexual choices must be wrong, right? So how do you know? Where do you draw the line?

Does it really work to draw it at "consent" -- when, first, this seems to be rather tricky to establish? Not to get gross, but some sexual activities like to play around on the fringes of consent; and how many of the accusations of sexual predation hinge on consent being withdrawn? If you actually read some of the cases arising from college campuses, this is the issue: one party says, in effect, "I stopped consenting" and other party responds, "but that's not what you said at the time."

And, really, are you actually content to say that it's only about consent? People consent to all manner of destructive behaviors with diet and smoking and so forth. Is telling people to eat right, exercise and to stop smoking and taking other drugs "hateful" -- because, after all, they chose these things, right?

What this is all about are the basic assumptions we hold -- which, if we are honest, we may never have challenged, and may not want to. One of those assumptions is that, regardless of whatever bad choices we make in life, it'll all wash out fine in the end. God only sends a few really awful people to hell, if there is even a hell. For the rest of us -- if not all of us -- we end up just fine. So by that measure, who cares what you get up to with sex or drugs or anything else?

Or we operate from the assumption of extreme modesty about what we can know. That is, we say, well, who really knows, so who really can say? Except is that what you do when it comes to caring for the environment? People who are militantly agnostic about sexual choices pivot 180 degrees at the speed of light when the subject is addressing climate change. And I'm not against battling climate change; I'm just asking, which is it? We can't really know, or, yes we can?

So, yeah, there can be toxic religion. That's bad. But there can be a more fundamental toxicity: the closing of oneself off from even the possibility of truth. Either it's out there -- and there actually is a "there" out there...

Or else you are all alone. Nothing at all is certain. Nothing. At. All.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Change is coming. Change our hearts to get ready (Sunday homily)

 Today I’m going to talk about the “Beacons of Light” 

reorganization project that is underway. 

Let me lay this out very plainly:

Like it or not, change is coming. 

Some people are getting too nervous about it – please don’t do that! 

This isn’t the end of the world, or even close.

But there are others who aren’t paying attention; it’s a boring topic. 

Yet, when change comes these folks will be surprised and angry, 

saying no one told them! 

So: I’m telling you: change is coming! What change?

Archbishop Schnurr is preparing to organize all 200 or so parishes 

in the diocese under the leadership of 50 pastors. 

Right now he’s weighing the possibilities, and in about ten days,

he’ll lay out a tentative plan with all the priests.

On October 1, his proposal will be published online for all to see. 

Then you and everyone will have 20 days to post comments.

After that he will announce a final decision 

and then this will all start being put into effect in 2022.

Then begins several years of adjustment and adaptation.

All this means that most likely, starting in July, 

this parish will begin sharing a pastor with several other parishes. 

This arrangement will probably mean a second priest 

will be assigned to help take care of the new “family” of parishes.

Why is this happening?

In many places, pews are empty and those parishes are struggling.

Meanwhile, we have 110 pastors in the diocese.

Fifty-eight of them – more than half – are over 60, 

which means a big wave of retirements during the next decade. 

The Archbishop is acting now to get ahead of that challenge.

Right now, my purpose is to alert you,

and to provide all the information I can. 

Please read my weekly column; I will share information there, 

including links to websites where you will find more. 

If you have questions, please ask. 

I can’t promise to have the answer, but I don’t mind the question.

I can tell you that I’m sharing everything I know;

I’m not holding anything back, not keeping anything secret.

But I am just hitting key points. If you want every last detail, 

I urge you to go to the Archdiocese’ website and dig deep as you want.

That web address will be in the bulletin.

Meanwhile, keep praying: this is a great time to heed the advice 

of St. James and the Lord in the Gospel: 

to keep our egos in check, and to try to appreciate the bigger picture.

For example, there will be changes in Mass schedules.

That will cause a lot of grinding of teeth.

For this parish, the biggest change will be sharing your priest 

with several other parishes. 

It’s been over a century since we had to do that. 

Early on, our priest would have duties in Versailles, later in Piqua.

When a priest is asked to shift from being a pastor to one parish, 

to leading three or four, you can’t expect him to operate 

as if he were three people. 

He can’t do the work of three people. No one can.

He shouldn’t be expected to attend three times as many meetings;

and why would you want him to?

And when you take three or four parishes that were on their own, 

and ask them to operate as one “family,”

everyone is going to have to adapt and be flexible.

As you can imagine, I’m thinking about this A LOT.

And I will predict that when the time comes, 

some changes will be made that will have people saying 

they can’t see the reason, and that will breed frustration.

Let me give you an example.

It occurred to me that our weekly bulletin will have to change. 

Instead of having a bulletin all about St. Remy,

while the other parishes have their own bulletins,

we’ll need to start having a common bulletin for the whole “family.”

Why is that?

Because one of the things that will breed distrust really fast 

is if everyone isn’t operating from the same information.

If you have three or four parishes that are now one “family,”

they need to plan together, not independently.

And that means everyone needs to have all the same information.

If you keep each parish isolated from the others, it won’t work.

I can’t give you a comprehensive list of all that will change.

It’s going to take time to figure it out.

I’m simply trying to give you a sense of it, so that you can prepare.

There’s no denying the negatives of this, but there are some positives.

Not every parish has a well organized religious education program;

lots of parishes’ youth programs are minimal.

Grouping parishes together this way will share these benefits,

truly making us brighter “beacons” of Christ’s light in this area.

Remember: our Catholic faith is NOT changing.

The sacraments are not changing. Jesus Christ is not changing!

If we have to adapt and stretch and even make sacrifices, 

that’s something the Catholic Church has had to do in every century, since the beginning. 

Why should you and I expect anything different?

Sunday, September 12, 2021

No Christ -- no life -- without the Cross (Sunday homily)

When you separate sex and baby-making, there's nothing wrong with this picture.

In the Gospel, Peter is offended 

by the idea of the Messiah going to the cross. 

But then, isn’t what Peter says just what we might say?

If someone says to us, “I’ve got a terrible path ahead of me,”

wouldn’t we say, “God forbid! No such thing shall ever happen to you”?

And yet Jesus whips around and says, 

“Get behind me, Satan!” 

He’s not rejecting Peter; but he is warning him 

of how misled, and ultimately fruitless, his thinking is. 

And notice, Jesus doesn’t say get away from me, 

but rather, “get behind me”—

he still wanted Peter with him, but not as a roadblock.

How does this apply to us?

Well, I think about how some people respond when someone says, 

“I am thinking about being a priest,” or entering religious life.”

And parents and grandparents will say, oh no, that will be too hard; 

you’ll be lonely, you won’t make much money. 

They try to talk their children out of it, too much of the cross.

I have known great joy as a priest.

But if anyone wants an easy path, don’t be a priest;

we do NOT need any priests who want an easy path. Not even one.

To be a priest is to unite yourself with Jesus the High Priest, 

and his priesthood is the Cross.

The joy I have as a priest is seeing how life is born from the Cross.

I get to see that in people’s lives every single day.

Next Jesus then goes on to say – to everyone –

Whoever comes after me must take up his cross and follow me. 

“Whoever”! That’s every single one of us.

Parents, I want you to know what Karen, Mark Travis and I –

what our staff, and our many, talented volunteer catechists –

are telling our boys and girls in our religious education classes,

and in our youth programs.

We’re telling them that to be a Christian man or woman 

isn’t to run away from the Cross, but to face it. 

That’s where virtue happens. That’s how we become saints.

This is a good time to talk about a part of our Faith 

that is most misunderstood, and most widely disregarded, 

and yet I think it will prove, in years to come, 

to be the most prophetic. 

I mean our teaching – which goes back to the beginning of Christianity, by the way – 

about contraception and openness to life: 

that all acts of marital love between husband and wife 

must be open to life;

and that life must have its beginning, 

not in a laboratory, but in a couple’s act of love.

Of course I realize being a parent is a sacrifice. 

So many of you bear witness to this every day;

and I will always remember the sacrifices my parents made, 

which I had to reach adulthood to understand fully. 

But to me, that only proves the truth of this teaching: 

because notice, it puts the cross right at the center of marriage. 

How can a Christian marriage be otherwise? 

How can a home and a family be Christian, 

without the Cross right at the center? 

So there is either the sacrifices of having a larger family, 

or the sacrifices of times of self-denial 

that are part of Natural Family Planning. 

And of course this is a challenge, I won’t minimize that.

But what doesn’t make sense is to say 

“this teaching can’t be true, because it’s too sacrificial.” 

I see no way to square that with what we just heard Jesus say.

And before I move on, let me state something clearly:

all the various ways to make these acts of love sterile are mortal sins. 

Let’s go back to Jesus’ words: 

You and I can’t be his disciple without the Cross.

As much as we might like to, it simply won’t work.

Bishop Fulton Sheen once explained powerfully 

what happens when you separate the Christ and the Cross.

If you try to have Christ without the Cross, 

you end up with cheap sentimentality. 

This is the Jesus so many say they admire – “oh, isn’t he nice!”

But why would you give your life for Hallmark Card pieties?

Then Sheen talked about the alternative: a cross without Jesus.

In his time, Bishop Sheen cited communism, 

but the point can easily be made about all kinds of movements

that invite people to discipline, self-denial 

and dedication to something greater than oneself. 

In our comfort-rich but meaning-impoverished culture, 

this is attractive.

You can see many today who build their lives around various causes.

This explains why so many are drawn to Islam, 

and this includes many conversions happening in American prisons.

The trouble, as Sheen said, 

is that the Cross without Christ is authoritarian and cruel; 

conversion without love and forgiveness only means conformity. 

There is death but no resurrection.

Saturday was 9-11, and we remembered those events of 20 years ago.

Followers of a Cross-without-Christ flew those planes into the Towers,  

saying that the world must be purified.

A Christ-without-the-Cross looks on in horror, but does nothing. 

Those who ran into the fire showed us: 

no one has greater love than this: to lay down ones life for another.

There are lots of reasons to recoil from the Cross as Peter did.

But there is no other way to real life.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

'May I attend the wedding?' Guide for Catholics

This article by Father Francis Hoffman (via Steve Ray) is very well done, and states everything clearly and succinctly.

The only thing I would add is a little depth to his third case: of nominally or lapsed Catholics who do not marry in a Catholic wedding. Consider the following case, which is very common:

A lapsed Catholic who is free to marry seeks to marry a non-Catholic, who likewise is free to marry. The Catholic has no particular desire, unfortunately, to practice his or her Catholic Faith. If the Catholic marries without benefit of the Catholic form of marriage, that marriage is treated as invalid by the Church, although -- as Father Hoffman says, it is potentially valid.

But before you say, then a Catholic should not attend that wedding, unless the Catholic party remedies this situation, let me explain something: there may not be any way -- in good conscience -- for the Catholic party to remedy it! Let me elaborate.

Suppose you tell your lapsed-Catholic friend, "look, we can fix this. Come with me to see Father Friendly, who will explain how you can be validly married. You can even be married at the park as you planned, since your intended is not Catholic, so whatever form of marriage s/he prefers can be an option -- with the bishop's dispensation."

Your lapsed-Catholic friend agrees, the couple meets with Father. In the course of that meeting, Father will explain everything, including that the Catholic party -- marrying a non-Catholic -- must make two promises:

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ, and intend to live that faith as a Catholic?

Will you do all in your power to share your faith with your children by having them baptized and raised as Catholics?

Do you see the problem?

Here it is: we saw above that this lapsed-Catholic does not desire to practice the Catholic faith. Perhaps s/he does not believe in Jesus. Perhaps s/he has joined another religion, or simply has no faith at all.

The only way this marriage can be "recognized" is either the lapsed-Catholic must believe -- that is, undergo conversion -- or else, answer insincerely. (And don't doubt for a moment that happens!)

Does that seem just to you? Do you think that is the intent of Catholic norms on marriage, to say that if you lapse from your faith, you may never enter into a valid marriage?

At one time, a provision in canon law specifically said that someone who formally defected from the Catholic Faith was not bound to the Catholic form of marriage; that was intended, I think, for such situations. This provision, however, was deleted. Why? Because that deletion solved a knotty problem: Catholics who defected from the faith came to their senses, and sought to return to the faith -- and perhaps what helped them wake up was realizing they'd entered into a marriage (outside the church) hastily and without care, and now that marriage was a wreck. Alas, the marriage was presumed valid, and they had to go through the arduous process of asking for a declaration that it was otherwise -- i.e., null.

Since such situations often involved a lot of immaturity, the sense was that by treating such marriages as invalid -- for lack of form -- then the Catholic who is now back to his/her senses can either resolve the problem of a foolish (and invalid) marriage easily; or else seek the Church's help in that marriage being recognized as valid.

However understandable that concern was, it created a new problem which I highlighted. How is that to be resolved? Are we to press people to make insincere declarations of faith?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Two words to say it all: what will you say? (Sunday homily)

 Just as a change of pace, I’m going to tell a joke.

There’s this man and he decides to join a religious community. 

It is very strict and observes total silence; no one speaks at all.

After six months, he meets with the superior, 

and then, he can say just two words. 

So the superior calls him in, and asks for his two words:

“Bad food,” he says. 

The superior nods, and sends him back to his room to keep praying.

Another six months go by, and he meets the abbot again,

who asks for his two words: “Hard bed.”

The abbot nods and sends him back to his room.

Another six months go by, and the abbot calls him back a third time.

This time his two words are, “I quit.”

The abbot responds sadly, “I can’t say that I’m surprised; 

ever since you got here, all you’ve done is complain!”

What if all you got to say were two words.

Two words to tell people what you stand for,

what matters most in your life? 

What two words would you choose?