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?

Friday, September 03, 2021

No, the Supreme Court did not uphold Texas' heartbeat law.

This week a new law went into effect in Texas, outlawing most abortions after the unborn child's sixth week of life. The not-very-bright, never-thinking-independently talking heads and professional shriekers all did their thing, especially when the U.S. Supreme Court did not do anything to block the new law. As a result, this looks like a big victory for the prolife cause.

Well, hold on.

First, here's why the U.S. Supreme Court didn't do anything. Normally, when a court blocks a law, what it actually does is issue an injunction stopping individuals from enforcing the law. Most of the time, those individuals are office holders: presidents, governors, attorneys general, judges, etc. (Here's a good explanation of the legal landscape.)

But this new law did something rather different. It specifically bars anyone in public office from enforcing this particular law! Instead, it allows for any private citizen to sue, in civil court, anyone who provides or facilitates abortions that are contrary to this new law.

So, the reason the U.S. Supreme Court didn't do anything, is because it's far from clear who, precisely, the court was supposed to enjoin: every citizen and resident in the state of Texas? Thankfully, the too-expansive powers of the courts aren't that expansive. Indeed, if you look closely at the petition that came before the high court this week, the abortion-defenders were asking for injunctions against a handful of people. Setting aside whether such an injunction would have been lawful, it would have been ineffective, because as I said, anyone at all can file a lawsuit against an abortion-provider.

So, is that it? Is that the end of the story? Not at all.

There's still a lot of legal wrangling to come, and as I am not an attorney, I won't try to parse all that. But here's what the framers of the law expect to have happen. At some point, someone actually files a civil lawsuit; and now there's a court case; and the abortionist or someone else who is implicated in abortion must defend him- or herself in court. The new law specifically says that one defense is to say that the abortion was legal under existing legal precedents (i.e., Roe and Casey). In other words, it's entirely possible that someone brings a civil suit against an abortionist, and the abortionist wins in state court.

On the other hand, in the event the abortionist (or insurer, or landlord who rents to the abortionist) loses, then it seems very likely that case ends up in the federal courts, and now, the federal courts have something they can "enjoin" -- i.e., the adverse judgment. Why? Because it conflicts with Roe or Casey. Alternately, the Supreme Court could then decide that the new law should be upheld, and so much the worse for prior precedents. 

In the meantime, this new law makes things much more complicated for abortionists and their enablers; they have to deal with the threat of lawsuits from every side. And that prospect alone seems to be a victory, right?

Well, not so fast. What the conservative, pro-life majority in the Texas legislature can do, the liberal, pro-abortion majority in the California legislature can also do. Several years ago, California passed a law making life difficult for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. After several years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law. So why can't California try again, only this time, barring any public official from enforcing the law, and instead, invite private citizens to file lawsuits against pro-life pregnancy counseling centers?

Or, do the same against gun manufacturers and sellers?

Or, do the same to get at speech they don't like?

The possibilities are endless and not appealing. Recall the scene from Hunt for Red October: the Russian sub captain cleverly turns off the safeties on his torpedoes after Ramius tricks him; but then those torpedoes circle back on the Russian sub.


Again, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me there could be a case to be made that when government passes a law, it's the government's job to enforce it, and to make sure enforcement of that law is fair and unprejudiced. Call it a matter of due process, or "equal protection under the law," or an application of the "privileges and immunities" clause in the 14th Amendment. But if laws are passed with empower a flood of lawsuits, the chilling effect on the exercise of a constitutional right is real and serious. Of course, the Constitution does not and ought not grant a right to kill an unborn child. But so the U.S. Supreme Court has held more than once, and that is the real problem.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

My weekend...

Here's a vignette...

Several weeks ago, a local group planned to bring a priest here from Haiti. His parish benefits from contributions from local folks -- including my parishioners -- so this was an opportunity for them to know where their money goes, and for the priest and the Haitian parish to tell their story.

Meanwhile, I had a wedding scheduled for Saturday...that means a rehearsal Friday, of course.

Somewhere in there I got a call: So-and-so was from your parish; she died; her funeral was at Such-and-such a parish, will you lead prayers at the grave on Saturday? Sure.

(It's starting to get complicated, but what can I do?)

Priest visiting from Haiti speaks little English; he brings a parishioner of his who speaks English. The group here, that is organizing things, has a schedule for him to meet with this group, that group, see this and that. He's going to be at all the Masses this weekend. I speak up: Father should be given an opportunity to offer Mass himself; even in French, if that's all that works. I stupidly thought Haitians all speak French; they speak Creole, which is French derived, but not the same thing. At any rate, we planned for one Mass to be a mixture of French and English, meaning, Father could offer Mass and we'd all just manage.

Father-from-Haiti is very pleasant, but little time to visit. I've got a rehearsal, he's got visits...

Oh, and the retired priest who was going to come on Saturday morning -- I have two other Masses -- gets a fever. Now I have three Saturday Masses, plus confessions, plus the burial...

And then I get a call: a longtime parishioner died. When shall I meet with the family? How about Saturday, between the burial for the other lady, and the wedding? That's all that works. Thank God, everyone who came for the 11:30 am burial arrived by 11:30 am. Bereavement meeting at noon went smoothly -- good, as there's a wedding at 1:30 and I need to be in the sacristy at 1 pm. "Father, it's hot in church!" "Yes, and I suggest that if you keep these inside doors closed, that'll help." "Good idea!"

Oh, did I mention I was sick this past week? Nothing serious, but I was hoarse and coughing a lot. No one likes to have the priest up at the altar, coughing. Thankfully, I felt pretty good by 1 pm on Saturday. But at the 8:15 am Mass, I said, "it's going to be a long day, sorry but no homily, no petitions..."

The families kindly invited me to the reception; and if they do (they don't always), I am happy to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention two phone calls on Friday: about a very difficult situation. No details, sorry, it's private; but VERY difficult, and I apologized for not being able to talk longer, but -- the rehearsal was in 15 minutes. 

So, by Saturday evening, things seemed on a good slide. All I had to worry about for Sunday was...

The priest visiting from Haiti would be the celebrant; but I would assist as I could, as he spoke almost no English; no one else in church spoke French. It worked, but there were some bumps.

Two more went fine.

Then a baptism, now we're on the easy side of the day. Did I mention I was getting hoarse and coughing a little? 

The visiting priest and his interpreter headed out after that, to another parish nearby and then to Indiana. Not so easy for them. Hearing about the deprivation in Haiti is...amazing. How blessed we are. 

So it's been a couple of hours, doing nothing but drinking a cold drink on my porch, and nothing else.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The new war on tradition

It's been about five weeks since Pope Francis issued Traditiones Custodes, his motu proprio greatly restricting the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), and everything, apparently, associated with it.

This decision hit me so hard that I barely talked about it, to anyone, for a week or two. I made only the briefest mention of it at Mass. Meanwhile, I contacted Archbishop Schnurr almost instantly to ask for whatever permissions were possible. Via the priest he designated as his "delegate" to handle these matters, I received permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass "privately." No permission to celebrate any of the other sacraments in the traditional form; nor, it seems, for me to use the older forms of blessings. The Archbishop gave permission for two parishes in Cincinnati to continue offering the TLM, a parish in Dayton, and he indicated he would designate a site up north as well; that hasn't happened yet.

An aside: some want to fault Archbishop Schnurr for not being generous enough in applying, or even in sidestepping, the pope's edict. I am not a canon lawyer, so I am in no position to fault how Father Ruiz, the designated delegate, or the Archbishop himself, are construing things. But I do know they both are trying to act in accord with their consciences, as is right. And I know the following to be true: prior to Traditiones Custodes, Schnurr could not have been more generous toward those interested in traditional rites. Every priest was welcome to offer the TLM; training was generously made available; he made no problems whatsoever. The Archbishop takes seriously his moral duty to be obedient and I think he is trying to do that. Second, the choice of Father Ruiz was entirely suitable and irenic. He, too, has been supportive, and will do everything he can, conscientiously, to assist those interested in traditional forms.

So, to put it simply, even if you think Archbishop Schnurr could handle this differently, remember he is not the author of this new reality, and he is trying to navigate this with the long-term in view.

After a week, I did start writing about this situation in the parish bulletin, and I did work out how I would handle things at St. Remy. I have permission to offer the TLM privately; I have permission to allow a layperson to assist as an altar server; I have permission to do this in the church; no one told me to lock the doors or kick the faithful out of church; and I was told that if people wished to receive Holy Communion, I could give them the Eucharist. So these are the things I am doing. What, then, does offering Mass "privately" mean? It means that such a Mass cannot be on the parish schedule, nor can it be "announced." So, I regularly offer the TLM privately, without any announcement; but I do it the same time each week. If people figure it out and show up, what shall I do?

I am supremely confident that Archbishop Schnurr is entirely fine with people being present when I offer such a private Mass, but I can readily imagine it being otherwise. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the bishop has forbidden priests from any private Traditional Latin Mass. Meanwhile, in other places, even those things that might be suggestive of traditional things are being banned. In Costa Rica, vestments that savor of tradition are banned -- from use with the 1970 Mass -- as is Latin! A priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago has been told that he and the people must cease praying the St. Michael Prayer, and the Hail Mary, at the conclusion of Mass! Permission was graciously granted for them to do so silently.

All this is supremely silly and petty, and only serves to reflect badly on those who issue such edicts. What in the world does it even mean to say, you can't pray a prayer "after Mass"? Is the public recitation of the St. Michael Prayer forbidden entirely? No? Then how much time must elapse between the conclusion of Mass and the licit recitation of this prayer? 

It may be hard to see it, but there will be good that comes from all this, although I doubt it will be what those who support this war on tradition hope for. But good will come, because it always does. 

Meanwhile, there will be bad fruit as well; the instances I cited above are some of that bad fruit. There will be many who are discouraged -- I am discouraged! There will be further divisions as people take this opportunity to treat others badly, especially when they have the power to do so.

Also meanwhile, there are those counseling disobedience. I cannot assess the conscience of others, but I cannot endorse that. 

It is one of the oldest and most seductive temptations: to justify disobedience out of an inflated sense of "necessity" and because some aspect of the obedience demanded is unfair or unjust. I will not say that there are never grounds for disobedience, but that option must be saved for last. However unfair it would be for the bishop to tell me (which he has not done, let me stress) that I may not offer the TLM at all, in my judgment, I would not be justified in defying him. If he directs me to offer the 1970 Mass only, then that is what I would do. 

After all, whenever I reach the point that I think my only option is to disobey the bishop (or the pope), there still remains one other option: to resign -- i.e., from a pastoral assignment. Sure, I hear you say, "but that's exactly what these bishops want!" They may want this or that problem priest to go away, but they do need someone to staff parishes. Resignation is an entirely ethical way to refuse to obey; and it is a witness.

Remember, the battle is always the Lord's; and deciding to trust him is a powerful message, and a blameless one. 

Meanwhile, we must simply wait for the contradictions that have been set in motion to grind away on each other. At Where Peter is, a gentlemen tries gamely to defend the pope's edict by arguing that the reason the TLM must be chucked out the window, in favor of the 1970 Missal, is because the new Mass is simply "better"; then to show the manifest inferiority of the old Mass, he cites several features that -- oops -- are likewise features of liturgy in non-Roman Catholic rites. Thus raising the question of whether these non-Roman rites must also be extirpated? The author tries to wave away the implication of his argument with a footnote: "Nothing I am saying here is meant to indicate any disunity between the Rites nor is it meant to indicate any inferiority of the other Catholic Rites." Well, you may not have "meant" to indicate inferiority, just as a poor driver doesn't mean to run the car into a telephone pole; but the mess remains.

The drift of these arguments -- and when arguments fail, naked impositions of power -- is to argue that no more debate may be tolerated about the 1970 Missal -- it's better, don't you see, so shut up! -- and for that matter, about anything that has followed the Second Vatican Council; and, for that matter, the Council itself. The basic approach here is simply to demand silence. 

Not only won't that work; it is positively corrosive. 

Many of us have long maintained that Vatican II was badly served by the implementation that followed, and I still take that view. But, if you keep insisting that people must accept it all -- the Council, plus the 1970 Missal AS-IS, plus all the rest of the decisions about religious life and architecture and catechesis -- as a package deal, while being told that if they question or wonder, they're schismatics and they "sadden" the Holy Father...

Well, people will stop asking their questions openly; but they won't stop wondering; and if they believe you that it's all a package deal, then at some point, people who previously did not question the Council itself may find themselves doing so. They will find themselves searching online for discussions of this subject; to learn more about an event that happened before they were born, and about which, they haven't really learned a whole lot. And if those in communion with Rome are forbidden to discuss openly these questions, then whose articles and websites do you suppose these inquisitive minds will land?

This all takes me back to when I entered the seminary. I had no particular interest in the the Traditional Latin Mass at the time; I had almost no experience with it and it was opaque to me. I had, however, familiarized myself with the documents of Vatican II before entering the seminary; that seemed common-sensical to do while waiting. But then I noticed something about the seminary (this was 1997): certain subjects and certain interests were verboten; any discussion was entered into furtively, while no faculty were around, and indeed, only with seminarians who one felt could be trusted. 

What subjects and interests? Anything savoring of tradition! One was extremely careful about even expressing the slightest interest in the rites and forms of liturgy prior to 1970. Indeed, even expressing interest in clerical attire would get unfavorable notice from the "formators" -- because that might suggest a certain fetish about having a clerical identity: very unhealthy! 

Guess what? This very climate of suppression and fear piqued my interest. Oh, I was quite careful myself; but all this seemed awfully curious to me: what was so dangerous about tradition? I naively thought of the Catholic Church as all about tradition; one of the things I had to wrestle with in my return to the Faith was understanding how tradition fit into the whole picture. And then I found myself asking: do these folks who are teaching us, or whose materials we are studying, imagine that Vatican II represented a break with the tradition? I knew in my bones that if there were two Churches (pre- and post-VII), then there is NO Church. The Church is one, and therefore, there must be continuity.

Thankfully, the seminary I attended is no longer subject to this repressive climate, but I suspect this sort of fearfulness is going to make a come-back in many places. It won't work, as it didn't work in my case and in the case of many with whom I attended the seminary; it will only serve to expose the fragility of the positions those who impose this sort of thought-control.

So, yes, this is all bad, but keep of good cheer. This new war on tradition will not be successful.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

'God dwells here' (Homily for Anniversary of St. Remy Dedication)

 This weekend we recall the consecration of this church; 

the actual anniversary is August 18, 

but we move it to the nearest Sunday.

This year, we also celebrate 175 years of our parish. 

The first Mass offered in Russia was not here, 

but at what was then the DeBrosse farm on Versailles Road. 

Father Navarron, the first pastor, lived in a small house there, 

and he set aside part of his home as a chapel.

In October – after the harvest – 

we’re going to have a pilgrimage out to that very location. 

Also, as you know, after the 11 am Mass on Sunday, 

we will have a picnic lunch and some live entertainment; 

I hope you can come!

Let’s be clear about the meaning of this anniversary.

Our Mass prayers and our readings are all about this place, this church.

When this church was consecrated, it became a true Holy of Holies.

It is literally true to say: God dwells here.

This anniversary should be joyful; and yet there is anxiety.

Too many things in our church, our nation, our world, give us disquiet.

I am reminded of something Saint Augustine said 1,600 years ago: 

Is there any affliction now endured by mankind 

that was not endured by our fathers before us? 

What sufferings of ours even bear comparison 

with what we know their sufferings? 

And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age 

because things were so much better in former times. 

I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back 

to the days of their ancestors – 

would we not still hear them complaining? 

You may think past ages were good, 

but it is only because you are not living in them.

With that in mind, let’s recall our forebears who first arrived here.

They barely had anything we would call a “road”;

whatever resources they had – tools, food, life savings – 

they brought with them.

None of their tools ran on either electric or gas – but sweat.

Imagine all the trees they cut down…with an axe or handsaw.

There was no 911 to call in an emergency.

No hospital to go to if you felt bad.

No antibiotics and not much to relieve pain.

It must have been a very hard life, and they knew it would be, 

when they left all behind in Europe, 

and sailed for several weeks across a vast ocean, 

and then made their way deep into a wilderness of unknown peril.

When they arrived and caught their breath and wiped their brows, 

it wasn’t long before they knew what they needed:

A house for God to dwell in. A priest to offer Holy Mass 

and to baptize and to give absolution and the anointing of the sick 

and all the sacraments.

They wanted God to dwell here, and their Catholic faith assured them 

that in the Most Holy Eucharist, indeed God does dwell here.

Stop and think about the burden of work they faced, 

and with what justification they could have said, 

“we have so much we must do first; we’ll get around to God later.” 

Instead they moved quickly to invite God to dwell in their midst.

You and I have heard such discouraging news in recent weeks.

How heavy it is to witness the suffering of people 

in Afghanistan, Haiti – or a farm family in St. Henry.

That first generation who came here fled the wars of Europe;

as their sons came of age, they were called up for the Civil War.

In those days, a bad crop wasn’t just lost income; it was famine.

Do you dread the hostile culture around us? 

Did you know that in 1855,  

a mob set fire to the first Holy Angels church – in Sidney? 

That was only one of many riots across the nation, targeting Catholics.

What gave them strength and confidence to keep going?

Their families; their faith; and this house of God.

Today when you leave this house, 

will you know and be sure within yourself, 

that you were with God today; 

that you beheld him with your very eyes?

Will others you meet realize, from having met you,  

that God dwells here?

Sunday, August 15, 2021

'Where Mary is, God wants us to be as well' (Assumption homily)

 Today we remember Mary’s departure from this life 

and entry into eternity.

We believe, as Pope Pius XII taught definitively in 1950, 

“that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, 

having completed the course of her earthly life, 

was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

We believe this because early Christians believed it.

There is an interesting bit of concrete evidence for this:

and it is that nowhere on earth are the bones of Mary kept.

Surely, if her body had remained on earth, 

Her remains would have been honored and protected,

and they would be venerated to this day.

The bones of the apostles have been preserved all these centuries;

It is impossible to believe Mary’s body would be any less honored.

A third reason we believe it is because it makes sense 

that God would give this gift to her who cooperated so perfectly 

and so powerfully with God’s plan to save the human race. 

Now, there’s an important point to make about this gift given Mary, 

like all the gifts God gave to her.

Mary being taken into heaven 

isn’t only something that happened to her; 

it has meaning for all of us, for all Christians.

Where Mary goes, we will go. 

Everything God gave to Mary, he will give us as well.

So this is a powerful cause for hope.

As you know, I recently did a series of homilies 

on the Mass and the Eucharist.

Last week, Deacon Ethan Hoying gave a powerful homily 

on the Eucharist truly and really being Jesus’ Body and Blood.

There’s a connection between that subject and today’s observance,

and it is this: the Mass and the Eucharist aren’t only about 

a backward connection to the First Good Friday and the Resurrection.

They are also about a forward connection to what we aim for – 

where Mary has already arrived – and that is heaven.

The readings remind us of the “ark of the covenant.”

These details are fascinating.

This was a box, covered inside and out with pure gold.

This box was covered with a lid, on which two cherubim were fashioned. 

Their wings extended toward each other.

FYI, if you ever saw the Indiana Jones movie, 

it does a good job at least showing you what the ark looked like.

The ark had the original Ten Commandments placed in it, 

along with a container holding some of the manna from the desert.

Once a year, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies – 

where the ark was kept – in order to offer atonement for the people. 

God’s Glory would come down and overshadow the ark; 

the wings of the cherubim were referred to as the “Mercy Seat” – 

a kind of throne for God.

Now, compare the old ark to the new ark – that is, Mary:

What is better than pure gold? How about pure holiness? 

Mary was preserved, by God’s action, from any stain of sin.

Mary carried not God’s Word in stone, but the Word made flesh.

She bore not manna from the desert, but the true Bread from Heaven!

All this after the Holy Spirit of God overshadowed her.

And notice this: she was present when the true High Priest – her Son! – 

offered atonement for sin, not once a year, 

but once for all time and forever.

Here’s a secret that so many miss.

Do you know what is the closest you can be to heaven, while on earth? 

It’s where you are right this moment.

Do you doubt that Mary believed that?

Do you have any question, that when the Apostles offered Mass, 

she believed her Son when he said, “Do this in memory of me”? 

She knew for certain that the bread and wine 

truly became the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Do you deny that Mary above all would recognize her own son?

If Mary were still on earth, she’d be right here.

The Mass, the Eucharist, is not only union with Jesus on the Cross.

It is also union with Jesus risen from the dead; 

Jesus reigning in heaven: union with Jesus FOREVER.

Where Mary is, God wants us to be as well. 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

The Wondrous Exchange (Sunday homily)

 Last Sunday, in my homily series, 

we looked at the dimension of sacrifice: 

the Holy Mass is a true and real sacrifice, 

precisely because it is the re-presentation of Calvary. 

To put crudely, the Mass is like a time-machine 

that takes us to the first Good Friday.

A better way to say it is that the Mass, 

because it is the action of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 

is bigger than space and time. Bigger than everything!

When you and I take part in Mass, we tap into that power, 

and we are taken both back in time to Calvary, 

and also forward in time to the heavenly realities 

toward which God is pulling us with all his might.

And to repeat an essential point: 

to receive Holy Communion is to enter into union with God – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in the fullness of this reality. 

So no one should ever receive the Eucharist 

without faith and preparation and being in a state of grace.

This is all too important to be casual about it!

No one in her right might would say to a casual acquaintance, 

let’s get married, right now! 

Even moreso, no one should approach the altar of God 

without great awareness of this awesome reality.

Today, I want to look again at this aspect of sacrifice, 

but from a different angle; 

and pose the question that maybe you’ve pondered – I know I have – which is this:

Why God? Why did you do it this way?

Why was the plan for the Son to die?

Here’s a reason that occurs to me. 

Every one of us discovers, more than once and in more than one way, the division within ourselves.

Part of us aspires to be great; above all, morally great.

Who doesn’t admire a Mother Theresa, who gives her life for the poor?

Or Father Kapaun, who sacrificed his life in the Korean War, 

for the soldiers he was there to help?

But then we always stumble over that other part of ourselves, 

which you can see on full display beginning a few months after birth. 

When we are little, you and I literally take the food 

out of our parents’ mouths – we don’t care if they eat; gimme, MINE!

It’s a lifelong challenge: what do we call it? Dying to self!

Sooner or later, there can be real pain 

as we confront that selfish barbarian inside ourselves: 

he has to die so that we can really live.

In other words, humanity faced crucifixion whether Jesus came or not!

So look what God did: he said to humanity, your trial is mine!

Your pain is mine! Your death will become mine, 

and in so doing, become life for you, not merely human but divine life!

Of course, we wonder, couldn’t God have spared us suffering?

And the answer has to be yes, he could, because he’s God.

If you are a parent, let me ask you this:

if you had it in your power, 

would you prevent your child from any and all suffering?

You know you can’t; but what if you could?

And I don’t just mean exterior hardships, like losing a job, 

or a broken heart, or physical disability or sickness.

The trials that matter most are when they become 

a confrontation within ourselves, the choice between good and evil;

and whether we will pay the price 

to kill that selfishness and greed and lust within.

Mom, dad: you can’t really spare your child from that battle!

All you can do is help him or her face it and pass through it safely.

See how our parents show us God?

This is what God does: he says, you don’t have to face your cross alone!

So, here we are at the Mass, at the Cross; 

and we dragged our own cross here!

Speaking for myself, I am embarrassed by the pitiful “cross” 

I complain about, as I contemplate what Jesus took up.

And here Jesus says – and we hear him say it:  

“This is my Body, given for you! This is my blood, shed for you!”

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.”